Total Rating: 
***1/4
Previews: 
November 28, 2017
Images: 
Opened: 
December 12, 2017
Ended: 
February 4, 2018
Country: 
USA
State: 
New York
City: 
New York
Company/Producers: 
Manhattan Theater Club
Theater Type: 
Broadway
Theater: 
Samuel J. Friedman Theater
Theater Address: 
West 47th Street
Website: 
manhattantheatreclub.com
Running Time: 
1 hr, 45 min
Genre: 
Drama
Author: 
Lucy Kirkwood
Director: 
James Macdonald
Review: 

The holiday season brings to Broadway a warning of catastrophe, an all-too-true cautionary tale of disaster brought about by impetuous human intrusion into the natural world. The Children, Lucy Kirkwood’s thoughtful drama at the Manhattan Theater Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theater, features no children on stage, yet the underlying theme considers children and what kind of world they will inherit. What responsibility do we owe the next generation?


Relevant questions to be sure, with dangers of ubiquitous climate changes, melting glaciers, searing heat waves, and insistent fires. Add the ever-present dangers of war and nuclear casualties like Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami that damaged the nuclear plant in Fukishima. This sets the stage for The Children, which involves a recent similar disaster on the East coast of England.

Even as the evening begins, things look askew. A down-market beige kitchen set is oddly tilted, projections of sea water whirl around the stage and Max Pappenheim's sound effects are suspicious. The lone woman on stage has a bloody nose. This is Rose (Francesca Annis), on a surprise visit to two old friends, Robin (Ron Cook) and Hazel (Deborah Finlay). The sea, lighting, sounds, and blood all hover throughout this tale, tied up at the end.

Former colleagues, the three had worked together years ago as nuclear scientists at a nearby power plant. They have not seen each other in almost 40 years, since Rose left the plant and Robin and Hazel married, raised four grown children and have worked at the plant until the meltdown that changed their lives. Protecting themselves from radiation exposure, the couple were moved from their farm to an isolated community outside the exclusion zone, although they obviously are still neither safe nor well, as we later see. Electricity only turns on at ten pm and outages are frequent, the tap water is contaminated, the ground is collapsing, and disease is evident. Now, Rose is back, but why has she come and what does she want?

Transferred from a successful run at London's Royal Court, the play comes to Broadway with the same exemplary cast, Annis, Cook, and Findlay; and director James Macdonald (Top Girls). Macdonald directs with a slow and steady build, subtly unfolding the friends' past relationship in over one hour and 50 minutes of chitchat.

Not surprisingly, with such laudable performers, the characters are well-nuanced and distinctively portrayed, all struggling with their situations. Evidently they were once close friends, and a look-back to when they were young, dancing to steps Hazel had created, is one of the play's rare lively moments as they all rock to James Brown's “Ain’t it Funky Now.”

As Hazel, however, Findlay (Top Girls) is at the brink of impatience, well aware of a past flirtatious (perhaps still lingering) connection between her husband and Rose. Just watch her hack away at the lettuce as she prepares dinner and her anger at confronting Rose when she used the downstairs bathroom incorrectly, causing a messy domestic meltdown.

Hazel is the last to accept Rose's later suggestion on how to help the young generation in this new devastated world, although there is a fascinating ambiguity to the ending.

Ron Cook (TV's “Mr. Selfridge”) is an outgoing, slightly devilish Robin. He was probably the most fun of the three back in the day, but he is sensitive enough not to hurt his wife by revealing that the cows they once loved are all dead. Flirtatious or not, he and Hazel clearly have come through tough times with a stalwart, robust relationship.

Annis (once a Juliet) is the most interesting and multilayered to watch, bringing a mix of lustiness and intelligence to Rose as well as a subtle threat behind her confident demeanor. This threat, we learn, is her mission for being here and is revealed at the end.

Peter Mumford provided impressionistic lighting to set designer, Miriam Buether's tilting kitchen. Buether also dressed the characters, even the more sophisticated Rose, with a careless rural look.

Even with its occasional sluggish moments and some difficulty understanding the coastal English dialect, The Children has a fearful universality that lingers in the mind.

Cast: 
Sam Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay
Technical: 
Set and Costumes: Miriam Buether; Lighting:Peter Mumford; Sound: Max Pappenheim; Stage Manager: Martha Donaldson
Critic: 
Elizabeth Ahlfors
Date Reviewed: 
December 2017