How responsible are we for the mistakes we have created? That is the question Lucy Kirkwood’s play, The Children is asking. Rose (Francesca Annis) has returned to a remote island where she used to work with Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Robin (Ron Cook) as nuclear engineers. Rose has been gone for 38 years but has returned with a mission. The island is apocalyptic, having dealt with earthquakes, tsunamis, and a nuclear meltdown at the nearby power plant where they all once worked. Robin and Hazel have moved from the main house to a dreary cottage where running water is dangerous, and gas and electricity are in shortage. At first, Rose bates Hazel, who she scares, and is given a bloody nose for her effort. Rose seems to know where things are in the house, even though she has never been there. Turns out she and Robin have been secretly seeing each other and Rose still harbors feelings for him. She blames Hazel for getting pregnant and having children with him, but that is not the real children in question. Robin loves both, but it is Hazel who he is committed to, despite the fact Rose loves him with a passion. In order to make sense of her life, Hazel has turned into a yoga and health fanatic. She is the hope that lays buried in each of us. Robin goes back every day to look after their beloved cows, but as reality comes to call, both the cows and Robin have not necessarily come out of this disaster unscathed. He represents the reality of the situation. Rose is death, here to claim her last victims.
They all are in their mid-60s and Rose has come to say “Let the young ones go. They’ve their whole lives ahead. And I just feel — I feel very strongly: It’s not fair … because we built it, didn’t we?”
Annis is the epitome of longing and sorrow of a life not quite lead the way one expects. She makes us see the responsibility and guilt of past regrets. Findlay shows us the fear hiding deep within and the love that has held up Robin and her family. She is the woman we all want to be. Cook is the center of this trio. We see how he could love both women and how in his small way shows his love for his family despite his passion for someone else. He is the man who will always do the right thing when push comes to shove. These three are a true ensemble and it is a marvel that even in the silences, much is said.
James Macdonald’s direction allows the surprises and the twists and turns to unfold naturally. He brings out the best in his trio of superb actors. Miriam Buethers’ set and costume design together with Peter Mumford’s lighting and projection design and Max Pappenheim’s sound design keep us at the edge of the world. All these elements keep us just off-kilter enough to feel that this is now relevant and important.
We have used this earth to its limits, without a care for the next generation or for the one after that. Can there be redemption? Can we fix this mess? I left The Children just a little more depressed than usual about the state of affairs. Look at Fukushima. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma threatened six U.S. nuclear plants with major destruction, and therefore putting us all in danger of an apocalyptic disaster. Change needs to happen and quickly, but until those who created these horrors are made to suffer their damages, it will just all be talk or another play stating the obvious.
The Children: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St. Until Feb. 4th