By Lucy Kirkwood; Directed by James Macdonald
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club
Runs through 2.4.18
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 12.12.17
Ron Cook, Francesca Annis, and Deborah Findlay in The Children. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: Lucy Kirkwood's tremendous new play The Children is the kind of work we need to be making, and supporting, right now.
“We don’t have the right to power,” declares Rose, played by the incomparable Francesca Annis in this transfer from London's Royal Court Theatre. That power is both a metaphor and very real.
In The Children, a nuclear power plant, built decades ago on the rural eastern coast of England, has melted down. The summer cottage of Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Robin (Ron Cook) seems to be on a slight tilt, causing me at first to wonder if it was just my seat location or a design choice. When an apple rolls off the table, careening for the downstage right corner, it is a clear sign of trouble pulled off by scenic designer Miriam Buether, who also designed the costumes.
Rations of food are in order. “I find salad deeply depressing,” mocks Hazel as she prepares that very thing, cleaned with bottled water and consumed as the primary entrée for dinner. Power is rationed too: at present, we’re in a blackout when Rose comes for dinner. After so many years away from the couple, her arrival is mysterious.
Noticeably absent from a play called The Children are children. Rose is a nuclear engineer in her sixties. Robin and Hazel are also in their sixties. Lucy Kirkwood, a writer in her thirties, manages to capture their anxieties, particularly those of Hazel, with expert precision. Kirkwood also keeps Rose’s presence a mystery for just the right amount of time, never showing her hand. I’d hate to spoil it here but suffice to say that those children of the title are absent for a reason; their absence calls into question the very nature of how much responsibility the older generation has for the younger.
Veteran British director James Macdonald is a master at executing real, darkly comic characters in stark scenarios. His deft hand brings to the stage a nuanced, streamlined performance with just a hint at some tricks. But it’s Kirkwood’s script that deserves the most attention. The Children is filled with a millennial insight into the baby boomers in a way that never feels patronizing, but boldly poetic and disarmingly comic. She hits us with one-liners that could fill a wall of inspirational posters without being heavy-handed. “We can’t have everything we want just because we want it,” says one character in a prime example from this provocatively quiet play about “learning to live with less.”
Despite the darkness, hopefulness invades the final moments of Kirkwood’s The Children. In this rapidly changing world, filled with toxic masculinity, acidifying oceans, and unchecked capitalism, Kirkwood offers the bleakest of solutions. But it is a solution nonetheless. We’re sent into the darkness suddenly, as onstage the next morning is ushered in with yoga positions and projections of violent waves. Breathe. Namaste.
(The Children plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, through February 4, 2018. Running time is 1 hour 50 minutes, no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7, Thursdays and Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 2 and 8, and Sundays at 2 and 8 through December 23; for dates beyond that check website. Tickets are $60-$140 and can be purchased at manhattantheatreclub.com or by calling 212-239-6200.)
The Children is by Lucy Kirwood. Directed by James Macdonald. Scenic and Costume Design are by Miriam Buether. Lighting and Projection Design are by Peter Mumford. Sound Design is by Max Pappenheim. Production Stage Manager is Martha Donaldson.
The cast is Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, and Deborah Findlay.