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A CurtainUp Review
The Children

I wanted to write something that didn't harangue or nag an audience, but was generous, honest and unsentimental about how difficult it will be to make the changes that we need to, about how overwhelming that might feel – an awakening perhaps, but a terrifying one. The idea you can do nothing because the disaster is already too large is an infantilising one (one of the many reasons for the title), and the play is about three people growing up into active agents. — Lucy Kirkwood, explaining the path that led her to writing The Children in a 2016 interview in the Sydney Theatre Company's Timeline Magazine.
Ron Cook,Deborah Findlay,Francesca Annis (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Given its arrival on Broadway as wild fires are causing havoc in California, Lucy Kirkwood's The Children is a more than ever timely dramatic take on the all too common failure to take a responsible approach to the cause and effect of climate change — and allowing economic considerations to influence the way we harness technological endeavors.

But, while one wishes Ms. Kirkwood had not had such a critical issue to write about, the way she's tackled climate change is cause to rejoice. She's not only taken on that more problematic than ever issue but managed to weave it into a potent mix of polemic and fact inspired fiction.

The factual event that served as The Children's inspirational springboard was the 2011 nuclear explosion in Japan, the worst, but hardly the only case of such health and natural resource destroying accidents. The only upside of that Fukushima power plant's explosion was how a group of the plant's workers added a chapter to human history's profiles in courage.

The more personal angle of a love triangle between these aging characters may sound a bit been-there-done-that. But everything that transpires during the reunion of this senior citizen couple and and their long absent former colleague and rival for the man's affection is remarkably fresh, absorbing, disturbing. . .and entertaining.

During the almost two hours after Rose's unannounced visit to Hazel and Robin's seaside cottage near the the nuclear plant where they all used to work their individual and connected histories are subtly (and occasionally not so subtly) unspoolded: their complex relationships with each other and the children they chose to have (and in Rose's case, not have). . . details on the cause and effect of the event at the plant. . . the way each is battling the compromised environment, aging and death.

It takes a lot of talk to get it all out in the open and get to the final reveal. But it's good talk that's emotionally engaging and, despite its somber undercurrents and forebodings, filled with humor.

Of course, the happy landing on these shores owes much to having Francesca Annis, Deborah Finley and Ron Cook on board to play Rose, Hazel and Robin as they did in London; as does having the original production's director James MacDonald again at the helm. These are seasoned, much lauded British actors. Though their resumes include some prestigious Broadway roles, they go back quite a spell. Annis and Cook are probably best known to older New Yorkers for their roles in popular TV series (she as Lily Langtry in Lily, he, more recently as the loyal business manager in Mr. Selfridge). All are here very much at the top of their game.

Miriam Buether's all beige unit set of a country cottage kitchen is simple enough. Yet it's being positioned at a tilt, Peter Mumford lighting and Max Pappenheim's moody sound effects combine to evoke an aura of tension and establish the tone of what's to come. This is even more evident as the lights in that kitchen brighten and we witness the awkward first meet-up of the two women after 38 years. It seems, Rose arrived unannounced and Hazel, mistaking her for an intruder struck her hard enough to cause a severe nosebleed.

Pay close attention to the women's catch-up conversation that follows. You see, each bit of small talk, whether about Hazel's children and grandchildren and Rose's various lovers in America (and even that gushing nosebleed), is a step towards further revelations. Of course, the big reveal will be about the real purpose of Rose's visit in the aftermath of the toxic environment created by the seismic event at their former workplace.

Without going into spoiler territory various duets and trios will reveal r Hazel and Rob's concern over the still needy oldest of their four grown-up children, and that there have been times when Rose and Robin were more than friends and former co-workers. There's also their battles with aging and death no matter what the circumstances. While Hazel and Robin can only wait out the constraints imposed by the toxic conditions necessitated by the accident's radioactive fallout, they are also determined not to bow down to Death, which Rob likens to bulls who'll charge if try to run away. As he sees it "You've got to keep grabbing him by the lapels, poking him in the eye and saying: not yet mate. I've got your number, boyo. Keep him in line." For Hazel her embrace of Yoga will stem the tide a slow and boring road to the end, as was the case for her parents.

The actors and the script's detours into humor and bonding courtesy of a fun bit of choreography, keep us engaged in this dark story's at times overly slow, and perhaps ten minutes too long, creep towards its inevitably disturbing ending.

Manhattan Theatre Club certainly went counter to custom with its timing for Lucy Kirkwood's Broadway debut (her previous provocative award-winning Chimerica never made it to New York). After all, this apocalyptic story of what could indeed happen more than occasionally, isn't exactly easy to promote as holiday fare. Still, while it won't leave you smiling as you would after dinner with the reformed Scrooge or a replay of A Wonderful Life, The Children is indeed to be savored for its fine writing, direction, and acting.

You might also want to check out our London review.

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The Children by Lucy Kirkwood
Directed by James Macdonald
Cast: Francesca Annis, Ron Cook,Deborah Findlay.
Scenic and costume design: Miriam Buether
Lighting and Projection design: Peter Mumford
Sound: Max Pappenheim
Stage Manager: Martha Donaldson
Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, without an intermission
MTC Samuel Friedman Theater 261 W. 47th Street
From 11/28/17; opening 12/12/17; closing 2/04/18
Tuesday & Wed 7pm; Thurs, Frid, Sat 8pm; Sat 2 & 8pm; Sun 2 & 7pm. Reviewed by Elyse at 12/13/17 press performance

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