The Children brilliantly staged by Aurora

(L-R) James Carpenter, Anne Darragh, and Julie Eccles in Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children, directed by Barbara Damashek.

THE CHILDREN: Play by Lucy Kirkwood. Directed by Barbara Damashek. Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA.  (510) 843-4822 or visit

January 31 – March 1

The Children brilliantly staged by Aurora. Rating: ★★★★☆1/2

The first full-scale nuclear power plant was built in England in 1956 and ushered in the era of “clean energy.” The first notable melt down occurred in the Three Mile Island plant in 1979. The second catastrophe was in Chernobyl in 1986 and the most recent was the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe. It was that later event that triggered Lucy Kirkwood to write the one act play The Children that is receiving a brilliant staging at the intimate Aurora Theatre.

When the lights dim there are the atmospheric sights and sounds of a horrendous explosion followed by rushing waves created by lighting designer Ray Oppenheimer and sound designer Jeff Mockus signifying the Fukushima catastrophe.  However Kirkwood’s play takes place in an Eastern England beach town that has had a similar meltdown and two of her characters are living in a modest cottage outside the radiation contaminated “exclusion zone” where their initial home is located.

Kirkwood’s three characters are atomic physicists who helped build the ill- fated power plant that had the catastrophic meltdown caused by a million to one natural disaster. Apparently they still have faith that nuclear energy is a boon to society. Using their present predicament as the foundation she admonishes us about the consequences our actions will have on future generations of children.

 All three characters are in their 60s. Paul (James Carpenter) married to Hazel (Julie Eccles) live in the cottage and have four grown children who have moved away. The electricity is only sporadic because a design flaw placed the emergency electrical generator in the basement of the ill-fated nuclear plant. Kerosene lamps are used for light and their downstairs toilet often overflows. He has taken up farming and she practices yoga and lives a healthy life style.

The third character Rose (Anne Daragh) is a former colleague who moved to America and now 38 year later has unexpectedly returned. She is the first to arrive on stage with nasal bleeding that eventually is discovered to be a symptom of other medical problems. Unlike Hazel, Rose lives a devil-may-care life style and is childless.

The play is neatly divided into four segments without intermission as Kirkwood develops motivations of the trio. It is necessary for Rose and Hazel to interact alone giving verisimilitude to their relationship. Later when Robin arrives the second segment develops interaction of the trio. In the third segment it is required that he be alone with Rose and Kirkwood’s device to have Rose leave the stage is artificial. A similar construction flaw is used to get Robin off the stage allowing the author to write a devastating scene between the two women allowing Darragh and Eccles to display their acting powers.

There has been a former intimate relationship between Rose and Robin that is explored in acute writing and stage action by the two that leads to a shocking discovery of why Rose has been living a devil-may-care attitude.

The concept of the effects of radiation on the children is first introduced when Robin brings in a child’s tricycle that triggers the Geiger counter. That Geiger counter is also triggered when it is brought near Robin. The effect on future generations is expertly written into the script through normal conversation and actions without being didactic.

The moralizing about the children is the primary reason for Kirkwood writing the play and in itself  is a noble gesture. What makes this play a must see production is the superior acting and Damashek’s direction that would earn an Obie award. James Carpenter dominates the stage yet does not overpower the acting of his co-stars. Scene after scene enthrall the audience with the caveat that there are lapses that are received in silence.

Running time is 90 uninterrupted minutes.

CAST:  James Carpenter (American Buffalo, John Gabriel Borkman, The Birthday Party), Anne Darragh (Our Practical Heaven, A Delicate Balance), and Julie Eccles (A Flea in Her Ear).

CREATIVE TEAM:  Bert Van Aalsburg–Stage Manager; Mikiko Uesugi–Set; Cass Carpenter–Costumes; Ray Oppenheimer–Lights; and Jeff Mockus.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

(L-R) James Carpenter, Anne Darragh, and Julie Eccles in Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children, directed by Barbara Damashek.