BWW Review: THE CHILDREN at Studio Theatre
Studio Theatre's current production of Lucy Kirkwood's contemporary play The Children benefits greatly from a strong director (the company's Artistic Director David Muse) guiding three exceptionally talented actors that work together as a singular unit to present the story. Strong production values - most notably Tom Kamm's set depicting a small cottage on England's east coast and Broken Chord's sound design which evokes sounds of the wind and water - enable the cast and audience alike to immerse themselves in the story.
Kirkwood's storytelling prowess shouldn't be unfamiliar to faithful Studio audiences. She wrote the epic Chimerica, which received treatment from Studio following runs on the West End and Broadway. The Children follows this pattern. As with Chimerica, Kirkwood excels at writing very detailed characters which inhabit a specific place at a specific time. For me, at least - though substantially shorter at ninety minutes - The Children is less engaging as a work of theater. Though the story is fundamentally an interesting mystery, the script is a bit sleepy up until the last third of the play, which provides the payoff. Sleepy script or not, Muse's cast makes the dialogue-heavy proceedings as interesting as possible. Simply put, with a lesser cast lacking the ability to effectively deal with nuances, the show would have likely been a slog for the audience.
Hazel (Jeanne Paulsen) and Robin (Richard Howard) are retired nuclear engineers that inhabit a small cottage that sometimes lacks a consistent supply of electricity. Life has shifted dramatically since a disaster at the nuclear power plant where they both worked. Natural occurrences, namely an earthquake and tsunami, caused irreparable damage to the power plant - fundamentally altering the way of life, health, and safety of those closest to it in the exclusion zone. Think Fukushima, but in England. Hazel and Robin left their home (and their cows) to live in the cottage out of concern for their safety although Robin - per Hazel - returns to their home regularly to check on the cows, or at least that's what she thinks. It's unclear when the disaster took place, but it's likely not that long ago judging by the nature and tone of the dialogue. The site and its surroundings, understandably, are still radioactive.
Robin is away when Rose (Naomi Jacobson) knocks on Hazel's door. They haven't seen each other in decades. Hazel actually thought Rose was dead and was therefore extremely surprised by her arrival - so much so that she gives her a bloody nose. Hazel is confused about why Rose has come to visit, but she learns the truth when Robin arrives home. Other secrets are revealed and romantic sparks are kindled once again between Rose and Robin. Hazel and Robin must make a difficult decision at Rose's urging - one that will have huge consequences for not only their lives and those of their children, but also those that work in or live around the power plant, or are related to those working in the plant. The central question is how far would you go to save your fellow man? At what point should you put the well-being of your fellow man and the environment - both now and in the future - ahead of your own well-being? Is it worth it?
Paulsen and Jacobson's portrayals of Hazel and Rose respectively (along with Nephelie Andonyadis' costumes for both women) go a long way to emphasize how different the two are - even though they shared the same career path. A woman in science is not a woman in science. There is a simmering tension underpinning all of their interactions, which is particularly effective. It's clear the tension didn't come on suddenly. It's been present for years, albeit dormant for quite some time. Howard and Paulsen have a natural chemistry with one another and it's easy to believe that Robin and Hazel have been married - through the good and the bad - for a very long time. There's a spark between Jacobson and Howard, which is important to effectively present the ever-important love triangle in a believable way. It's clear from their interactions that they've known each other - perhaps intimately - for a long time.
As previously stated, some special production touches make the show a more engaging experience for the audience. While it won't be spoiled here, pay particular attention to last few minutes of the show. Miriam Nilofa Crowe's lighting, Broken Chord's sound, and Tom Kamm's scenic design work together to create an unexpected moment that emphasizes the open-ended nature of the story while still giving the audience some clue about the decisions the characters make after the story - the one we see at least - ends.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
THE CHILDREN plays at Studio Theatre - located at 1501 14th Street, NW in Washington, DC - through June 2, 2019. For tickets, call the box office at 202-332-3300 or purchase them online.