By Tulis McCall
Ahh. The Children. A many layered title that covers an entire planet when you think about it, and Lucy Kirkwood wants us to think about it. Somewhere in England, we never find out where we are exactly, something has gone very wrong. Very wrong indeed.
Robin (Ron Cook) and his wife Hazel (Deborah Findlay) have taken up residence in a cottage not far from their former home. The former home is soaked to the gills with radiation because the tsunami that hit England slammed the local nuclear reactor. The emergency generators were in the basement so when the disaster happened people were left on their own to handle everything manually. Everything within a radius of – well, who knows really – is cooked. It is like an invisible evil spirit spreading throughout the land.
Into this sheltered cottage stumbles Rose (Francesca Annis) who has been absent for roughly 38 years. At one time these three were close colleagues all working as scientists dedicated to the power plant down the road. How and why they went their separate ways is alluded to but never defined. Let’s just say there was duplicity involved. Robin and Rose are more than colleagues. Now however, all that doesn’t measure up to the fact that Rose is back and she has a specific mission on her map.
The interpersonal relationships are dolled out like poker chips until the entire piece assembles itself. These performances are subtle and focused as each person spins off like a dreidel in a tilted house. This house, according to the script, is tilted, but it was not noticeable to my eyes. Enough to know that the land, and the lives lived on it, are disintegrating. James MacDonald’s direction pays great attention to the details of familiar behavior. An absence of 38 years (or less) surrenders to the physical familiarity of old friends that kicks in like the feel of an old bike.
As Rose reveals her desire to help the people at the power station, it is the specter of the children that is put in the center of the storm. Robin and Hazel’s four children, and the others at the plant who might have a future if they can be plucked from their jobs. These are three individuals no longer at the prime of their lives, and as Robin points out their bodies are more or less rented, so why not use them for a good purpose. And what is that purpose exactly?
It is to Kirkwood’s credit that the threat and the impossibility of the situation creeps up on us like radiation poisoning itself. As the play concludes, however, the story collapses in on itself. That the future will not bode well for this trio is not in question, but Kirkwood holds onto her hand here, and we never learn the identity of her cards. The curtain falls and all we can do is fold. Specificity is tossed to the tainted winds. Too bad. A missed opportunity.
The Children by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by James MacDonald.
Miriam Buether (scenic and costume design), Peter Mumford (lighting design), and Max Pappenheim (sound design).
The Children begins previews on Tuesday, November 28 and opens on Tuesday, December 12 at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street – between 7th and 8th Ave). Tickets are available at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $60-$140. Through February 4. For more information on MTC, please visit www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com.