The children in Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children are neither seen nor heard, but they mean everything. They must inherit the bleak and broken world their parents’ generation made for them.
The Children is a Tony-nominated play getting its West Coast premiere at the Fountain Theatre—and it bears mentioning that it’s performed indoors. Wearing a mask during its emotional story and backdrop of ecological disaster underscores the dangers that undermine our own heightened sense of control over our environment.
While it’s clear from the outset that something bad has happened, fast-paced comedic dialogue offers hope that the positive will overpower the negative. Rose (Elizabeth Elias Huffman) arrives at a seaside cottage for a surprise reunion with Hazel (Lily Knight). The two former friends and co-workers have time to reminisce after decades apart before Hazel’s husband Robin (Ron Bottitta) joins them.
By that point, it’s clear that something has gone wrong at a local nuclear power plant and the cottage is not far from the danger zone. Rose and Hazel discuss aging and decay in relation to their own bodies, but the parallels to the failed plant and the damage done to the coastal area are unmistakable.
By the end, any hope that things might go well, for the characters and their world, is gone. The comedy has metastasized into horror. The play reveals itself as an intense domestic drama crossed with a heart-stopping thriller. Any vestiges of humor are overwhelmed by the dual meltdowns of the characters and their world.
Inspired by the Fukushima disaster, The Children beautifully captures the indignity of human frailty and the heroic potential of the human spirit. It asks important questions about the obligations of parents, scientists and human beings in general to protect the earth and their fellow inhabitants.
Scenic designer Andrew G. Hammer has created a spacious-feeling cottage that services the story well. Lighting designer Christian V. Mejia deftly addresses the power issues and changing light outside.
The Children runs through January 23 at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. (at Normandie). Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets, available here, are $25–$45, with pay-what-you-want seating available Mondays (subject to availability). Patrons must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and wear a mask while in the theater.