An acclaimed new drama that won awards during its original run in London made its Broadway debut Tuesday night. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review of "The Children."
"The Children" is a very small play about some very big things; profound, in fact, with its life and death matters. And yet this provocative British 3-hander, so brilliantly performed, could probably have gone a bit smaller.
With its slightly tilted set, we're tipped off right from the start that something's not quite right here. For the characters, this is the new normal following a massive disaster that brings to mind the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.
Hazel and her husband Robin have been forced from their home into a modest cottage just outside the exclusion zone to avoid radiation exposure. Electricity is rationed, tap water is forbidden, and everyone is coming down with one disease or another. They're both scientists who worked at the power station, and at play's start, they're surprised by a visit from an old friend: Rose, a nuclear engineer, has arrived with a mysterious purpose.
"These children, basically, actually with their whole lives ahead, and it's not fair, it's not right. It seems wrong, doesn't it?" Rose says.
Over the course of close to two intermission-less hours, we get to know these three old friends, and each new tidbit of information leads to the play's emotionally harrowing finale. Along the way, though, the dialogue is mostly mundane, discussing family, long-faded romances, and plumbing. If author Lucy Kirkwood was aiming to show how life, no matter how disrupted, boils down to routine, she did perhaps too good a job, because the minutiae of their lives slows the action. It picks up again when we finally learn Rose's true purpose, and it poses a moral conundrum: What in the final analysis is our ultimate responsibility to our children?
The cast — Francesca Annis, Deborah Findlay, and Ron Cook — imported from the London production, embody the characters with stunning naturalism. And director James MacDonald expertly lulls our expectations before lowering the boom at the end.
T.S. Eliot famously wrote, "This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper." Playwright Kirkwood seems to agree; it's the deceptive ordinariness of it all that makes "The Children" so deeply unnerving.