Sunday, March 4, 2018

What will we tell the Children?

Last month, I saw the Friday night performance of the closing weekend of The Children at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club.  It was a limited run from London’s Royal Court Theatre, and I am grateful to have come to my frugal senses in time to order a ticket.  Like the last production I saw that was directed by James McDonald — at BAM, Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone the set was in a box of sorts, so while I was slightly concerned with the height of my rear mezzanine seat (would I miss any downstage action?), once the play began, I got it all.  The box, rather like an adult-size diorama, was designed by Miriam Buether and represents the downscale home away from home where a long-married couple, Robin and Hazel (played by Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay) have lived since parts of the coast of England fell into the sea and what was left was irradiated by a failed nuclear power plant.  It just so happened that the couple who inhabit the diorama formerly worked at said nuclear power plant before their retirement to a lovely country house where they kept cows and chickens. All of which are now irradiated.

Into this kitchen/living area comes an unexpected visitor with whom the couple had worked decades before. This is Rose, played by Francesca Annis.
Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay, Francesca Annis.  Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich (NYT)
For the next hour and three quarters, we wonder what the visitor is doing there, so close to the irradiated land.  The dynamics between the threesome vary between old friends and old enemies, particularly when it’s just the two women.  When the man enters the picture box, well, that’s interesting.

They reminisce, they argue, they tell tales of children and cows.  When we finally learn why Rose is there, we’re shocked, but not appalled.  Fair’s fair.

The playwright, Lucy Kirkwood, was unknown to me. She will be no longer, as this was fine, intricate writing with interesting living characters (all of them in their 60s) telling a layered story of personal relationships, personal loss, and personal responsibility, as well as societal predicaments.  This is a thoughtful play with plenty of laughs since, after all, people are pretty funny, and the actors are terrific as is the precise direction by Mr. McDonald.
Rose, Robin, and Hazel (Credit:  Royal Court Theatre)
Scenic design by Ms. Buether and lighting by Peter Mumford are fitting and fabulous, atmospheric, and, on occasion, frightening.  I especially liked the surface between the set diorama and the orchestra, which I slowly realized was filled with water, rather like a moat.  Reflective water, still, and then rising water.  Rising and rising…. 

Back in February 2017 at BAM [], the last James McDonald-directed play I saw shared similarities with The Children, in another Miriam Buether scenic and Peter Mumford lighting design, as well as in attitude toward the future.  Fallible and arrogant humans have made a mess of things and will suffer the consequences.  No zombies, no robots, no aliens.  Just humans and the results of their hubris.  Terrific stuff. 

~ Molly Matera, signing off to continue scribbling about some other performances this winter....