[article as originally published in The Clyde Fitch Report, December 13, 2017.]
Big themes and human-scale stories twine with elegance, humor and some horror in Lucy Kirkwood’s play The Children, now running on Broadway in a Manhattan Theatre Club production. It’s the first NYC staging of a play seen most recently at London’s Royal Court Theatre; infidelity, guilt and generational legacy haunt a deceptively straightforward yet frequently surprising play.
We find three retired nuclear engineers reuniting in a remote cottage on the British coast. Two are married; one held jobs in other countries; all will eventually face huge decisions about their collective future. Outside, the world reels from a man-made nuclear disaster, and questions arise about who is responsible. Inside, the engineers must reckon with their personal histories with each other. The context for the reunion is at once a world that has endured, and is still enduring, catastrophe, and a call-to-arms that dwarfs and humanizes all other concerns.
The first of the three people is Rose (Francesca Annis), who surprises Hazel (Deborah Findlay) in the house to which she and her husband, Robin (Ron Cook), have relocated after an accident at the nearby nuclear plant where they all once worked. The two women are either sides of a long-term affair with Robin; they don’t so much re-meet cute as cute-ish, since Hazel suffers a nosebleed that is never thoroughly explained. . We learn, in their catch-up conversation, of the effects of the nuclear disaster that has upended their region of the world: Could Rose’s nosebleed be the result of a defensive move that hit home or symptom of an illness that we learn of much later? Other quiet mysteries surface: What did people know and when did they know it? How have they endured emotionally all these years? What lies ahead?
Kirkwood’s delicate dance of conversation and reflection shrewdly confronts the guilt that their generation might feel about the world they will leave behind them. Even the title of the play is a subtle touch: children are mentioned but don’t appear. Or are these 60-somethings showing us their childhood at the same time that they’re moving past it?