Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children was written before the pandemic, and it’s about the aftermath of a nuclear accident and not a virus, but its vibe of looming doom and concern over what can actually be done to fix things seems very appropriate to our present-day circumstances. The current production of this award-winning play, a Los Angeles premiere by the Fountain Theatre, boasts a trio of excellent performances and sharp yet often humorous writing. I found the show enjoyable and expertly done, but in the end I was unconvinced by the plot resolution and curiously unmoved by what should have been its tragedy.
Married couple Robin (Ron Bottitta) and Hazel (Lily Knight) are surprised in their British seaside cottage one day by an unexpected visitor from their past, Rose (Elizabeth Elias Huffman). It’s been 38 years since they all worked together in a nearby nuclear power plant, a place notable for recently having had a disaster. Hazel is suspicious as to Rose’s true intentions in returning to visit them, but Robin is pleased to see her. Over the course of the day they discuss what has happened in the past four decades of their lives, until evening comes and a fateful decision needs to be made.
Knight excels as Hazel, her performance a marvel of nervous energy, a symphony of stops and starts as her character tries hard to be welcoming but keeps being undermined by worry. Huffman is very good as the apologetically enigmatic Rose, ably demonstrating the character’s genuine desire to reconnect with her old colleagues contrasting with the seriousness of her reason for being there. Bottitta, an actor whose performances I’ve admired for many years, continues to impress as Robin, equally adept in comedic and dramatic moments, and is especially skilled in displaying how Robin is a different man to each of these important women in his life.
Director Simon Levy gets strong, emotional work from his actors, keeps the pacing tight and is abetted greatly in his job by Andrew Hammer’s scenic design, whose detailed cottage set brings a lived-in sense of reality to the proceedings. Kirkwood’s dialogue is smart and her characters are three-dimensional, but the sudden speeding up of the action in the final half hour of the play takes what was an effective character study and awkwardly compresses it into a less credible “message” ending. This is unfortunate, because otherwise this is a terrific production.
The Children, presented by The Fountain Theatre, plays through January 23rd. Tickets are available at www.FountainTheatre.com.