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The Children

Francesca Annis

                                   By David Schultz

There is much to savor and ponder in playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s new play. This Royal Court Theater transfer from England has imported its superb three-member original cast stateside. From the onset of the play the soundscape of rushing water with a menacing deep bass underneath sets the aural tone. As the unusual and jarring set comes into view, you know you are in uncharted territory. The set is tilted at a disturbing angle, not unlike a diorama that is ready to fall off its shelf. This cottage by the sea is the setting for the evening. A stunned woman in her 60’s stands in the kitchen, head back with a rather nasty nosebleed running down her shirt. Rose (Francesca  Annis) has come to visit her former colleagues that reside in the cottage. Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Robin (Ron Cook) haven’t seen her in almost 40 years. The shock of seeing Rose after all these years caused Hazel  to flail out in surprise in seeing her out in her yard moments ago. Word had it that Rose was deceased, so the specter of her return caused the accident to occur. The nosebleed is actually a foreshadowing of all that will follow.

Francesca Annis and Deborah Findlay                   photos by Joan Marcus

The play starts off slowly, but with a lot on its mind. The storyline gently unravels in carefully plotted increments, patience is required to see where it’s heading. The past and present collide as these three retired nuclear physicists rekindle their history together. The sudden reappearance of Rose into their lives is a mystery that they cannot figure out. They all worked in the same nuclear power plant back in the day. With casual chat and banter the ladies discuss the recent past….a horrific earthquake and tsunami caused a massive flood that triggered a nuclear meltdown. This cottage is nearby the event, but just outside the contamination zone. The reason Rose is there at the house makes Hazel jittery and nervous, she subconsciously knows that Rose and Robin had a secret fling way back when, and senses marital danger. Will this provoke the three of them into a delayed romantic duel to the finish? Not on your life… The playwright has much deeper concerns to uncover. The banter turns to heartfelt discussions that turn on what exactly it is that Rose has come to see them about. No spoilers here, but when it comes it seems both natural and inevitable. The habitual wandering of Robin to go near the contamination zone to feed the cows that live in the pasture seems odd, but he has his personal reasons to feed the animals.

Ron Cook joins them

With an uncanny sense of naturalism, these three performers work off of each other with delicate ease. The emotional connection, the long held distrust, the sense of time passing by are achingly portrayed. The unspoken sadness of what has happened with the accident, knowing that they all were part and parcel of creating the nuclear power plant and then seeing its horrific destruction are wounds that are incredibly deep. The buildup of suspense heightens the sense of what may come next. The clues and red herrings pile up, as the play nears its conclusion. Both thrilling and disturbing with its darkly cynical tone the final realization of the main characters to where they need to go next to correct the sins of the past hits like a sucker punch to the gut.

Director James Macdonald clearly and expertly gives the play its impeccable pacing. The astounding set design by Miriam Buether is cramped and gives one a continual vertiginous sense while watching the work. Everything is off-kilter, mentally and visually. Lighting and projection design by Peter Mumford sets the mood at the start and gives the work a deeply moving finale with both a visual and aural nod to the first moments of the work, that circle back to the last scene of the play with a spiritual nod to the afterlife.  

 The Children

Playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

261 West 47th Street

(212) 239-6200

Playing through February 4th, 2018