“The Children” at the Aurora Theatre

Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children” at the Aurora Theatre

Carol Benet

When you think of the title “The Children” you can’t help but thinking of the expression “What about the children?”  And this is exactly the question that hovers over Lucy Kirkwood’s play currently at the Aurora Theatre about adults (our) responsibility to the next generation.

Inspired both by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, and the novel “Voices from Chernobl” by the Nobel Prize winning author Svetlaqna Aleievich,  Kirkwood writes about three retired nuclear engineers who helped design a power plant in England that exploded and spewed its poison throughout the countryside.

They are now older, Hazel (Julie Eccles) 67 and Rose (Anne Darragh) 65.  Robin, Julie’s husband (James Carpenter)  is their age and they have a history working and socializing  together.   There  are many funny moments in the play when they relive their youthful capers, especially a dance to the music Rose saved on her Apple laptop that brought them all to their feet.

There was also a romantic liaison between Robin and Rose, but now they are old.   Hazel is the only one who tries to maintain her youth with yoga and positive thinking.  The other two exhibit signs of the radiation. In her bouncy acceptance of aging, Hazel keeps giving Rose advice such as , “If you are not going to grow, don’t live.”  Yet other remarks with dire yet realistic statements float around like life ,” It’s a slow decline to the grave.”

The play starts with a bang.  Lights go out, there is a tremendous downpour and weird crackling sounds.  Rose enters  the kitchen/dining/living room area of a simple cottage.  The married couple she is visiting has moved there after abandoning their house that was too close to the explosion at the power plant.  They are now just outside of the contaminated zone in the rural English seaside.  There has been a tsunami as well. 

When Rose, their former colleague, comes to visit she has a purpose — a request to make.

And like the enigmatic works of two famous contemporary playwrights Conor McPherson (Irish) and Martin McDonagh (Irish/English), there is a mystery here to be solved by the end of the play.  

Upon entering Rose has a nose-bleed that dirties her stark white blouse.  When she asks for a glass of water, Hazel hastily insists she not drink from the tap.  They discuss Robin’s work with thecows on their property, a small organic holding farm where they moved when they retired.  This was close to to the center and yet Hazel thinks the cows miraculously lived and Robin goest regularly to tendsto them.  But through the dialogue, strange revelations come out.  Their children, four of them, were close to the power station.  They talk about the 28 year old daughter Lauren who lives with a female partner and does not seem to be doing well.  We never see her in the play.

Besides the uncanny situation, “The Children” is peppered with so many laughs that you sometimes think you are in an Oscar Wilde play. But underneath there is a very sinister atmosphere with many secrets.  

I would be a spoiler if I revealed what Rose is there to ask them to do and how that effects the rest of the plot.  I just want to say that this is one of the best written, best acted and produced plays on the Bay Area stage today.  The director Barbara Damashek has help bring out all the drama that these three accomplished actors can produce.  Cassandra Carpenter’s costumes, Jeff Mockus’ sound, Ray Oppenheimer’s lighting, Mikiko Uesugi’s set are all perfect for this play. The small stage at the Aurora with seats around three sides of it is just right for this intense drama..

“The Children” at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley runs through March 1, 2020 but check the website for an extension.  I have a feeling there might be one.  auroratheatre.org or 510 843 4822.

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →