Broadway Review: "The Children"

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic / Outer Critics Circle

“Yes exactly. I would’ve felt like a traitor. Besides, retired people are like nuclear power stations. We like to live by the sea.” – Hazel to Rose

The success of “The Children,” currently playing at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is primarily the result of playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s effective and judicious use of tropes, particularly the extended metaphor of the nuclear “disaster” that has displaced Hazel (played with an unresolved anger tempered with pragmatism by Deborah Findlay) and her husband Robin (played with an openness that conceals deep secrets by Ron Cook) from their dairy farm (too close to the power plant for comfort). Although the farm was outside the “exclusion zone,” the couple felt more secure living further away in a smaller home plagued with touchy plumbing and limited lighting. Hazel manages the house while Robin makes the daily trek back to the farm to “care for” the cows.

Into this domestic tranquility comes Rose (played with a powerful purposeful energy by Francesca Annis) who, with Hazel and Robin, were largely responsible for building the nuclear power plant that has poisoned the land, sea, and air. Playwright Lucy Kirkwood carefully discloses the purpose for Rose’s surprise visit, initially suggesting she might be interested in continuing an extended affair with Robin. Although Ms. Kirkwood proffers many foreshadowing events – including Hazel accidentally giving Rose a bloody nose and Rose questioning Hazel about “the children” – it is not until later in the play the audience discovers the real reason for Rose’s intrusion into Hazel’s and Robin’s lives.

In a mind-wrenching climax, Rose connects her concern for Hazel’s children with the young team cleaning up the nuclear meltdown: “These . . . young people these children, basically, actually with their whole lives ahead and it’s not fair it’s not right it seems wrong. Doesn’t it? Because we built it, didn’t we? Or helped to, we’re responsible, so I do, I feel the need to, to clear it up.” As the action of the play quickly resolves, Hazel, Robin, and Rose wrestle with the things that have bound them together and the things that have torn them apart and transcend both to create a new future for “the children.”

Under James Macdonald’s purposive and gentle direction, “The Children” raises significant enduring questions left for the audience to grapple with. To whom are we responsible and why does that responsibility exist? Is it possible we are only responsible to and for ourselves? Is the life of a young person more valuable than the life of an older person? What determines the value of any given life? Does what a person has done during his or her life affect that person’s “value score?” Is vicarious punishment operative in the decisions made by Rose, Robin, and Hazel?

Who are our children and how are we caring for them and their future?

Photo: Deborah Findlay and Ron Cook. Credit: Joan Marcus.