Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Children Brings a Pensive Start to 2019 in #tctheater

This disaster minded drama features impeccable acting and a thoughtful plot

Photo by Dan Norman

Art is supposed to reflect and explain the world around us, right? That said, with the political world in chaos these days it seems only natural that dystopian fiction and high drama should make appearances with increasing frequency on screen, stages and pages around the world.

The Children, the latest play on offer from Jungle Theater, falls somewhere between these two categories. Not quite dystopian (or at least as I would define it - it falls short of blatantly apocryphal scenarios like those offered in The Road, for example), it still presents a dire vision of the hard choices humanity will be required to make as the fallibility of our modern world becomes ever more apparent. Hazel and Robin are a husband and wife who have uprooted their life after the fallout of a nuclear power plant in the U.K. They are living an intense existence for the so-called first world - no power, an inability to drink running water, etc. - and are visited by surprise by an old friend named Rose. All three are nuclear scientists who helped build and run the now-failed nuclear plant in its glory days but retired before the fallout. Through the length of Rose's visit we learn of many intricate ways this group is connected that go far beyond sharing a place of work, and that Rose's visit has far deeper (and harder) implications than that of reconnecting with a long-lost friend they haven't seen in decades. The reveals are central to enjoying the show so I won't say more, but suffice it to say there are plenty of surprises scattered throughout this story.

Photo by Dan Norman

The Children can best be described as a slow burn, with a seasoned cast that gently unveils layer by layer of the lives of the trio on-stage. It couldn't work without a deep level of nuanced acting, and luckily the three actors chosen here are ringers. Linda Kelsey brings a comfortable British plebianism to her character of Hazel, with a witty charm that lightens the mood of a plot that could otherwise feel devastating. Stephen Yoakam charms as the kindly yet duplicitous Robin; when reveals are made about Robin's character, Yoakam performs them with a gentleness that knocks your heart straight below your stomach. Laila Robins is marvelous as the troubled, regretful Rose. It is Rose's mistakes and missed opportunities that drive the entire plot, and the stealthy way Robins tiptoes through the plot's many landmines keeps the suspense heightened throughout the show. You never quite know what grenade Rose will throw next, and it leads to an astonishing range of emotional experiences as a member of the audience.

Photo by Dan Norman

The set is an understated cottage interior that, like the plot itself, reveals unanticipated depth. Designed by Chelsea Warren, doors open to reveal multiple floors and windy moors; bathrooms gently flood over; working appliances transition from day to night; and overall we are firmly grounded in the eerily silent reality of Hazel and Robin's everyday life. Costumes by Mathew Lefebvre tie directly into this presentation and are comfortable and straightforward. C. Andrew Mayer performs a few neat tricks with the sound design, wisely allowing the silence and pregnant pauses between the stunning reveals of the story to do most of the work. And Marcus Dilliard grants subtle lighting to finish the environment and show the transition of the narrative from day to night.

Photo by Dan Norman

The Children is a play that defies easy description and leaves a lingering memory, much like the actions of the characters in the show. It is a pleasure to see a trio of seasoned, skillful actors share the stage on equal footing, and the fact that it was so striking to note an absence of anyone under 50 on-stage made me simultaneously thrilled to see such genius and sad that it's so rare to find in culture at large. There's a bruising, truly adult beauty to The Children's darkness that assumes a maturity of the audience that I found uncommon and often unsettling. It asks impossible questions of us: Who is worth sacrificing amidst a wide range of suffering? Is there ever a time when your own selfishness should take priority over the needs of many others? What makes a life worthy of having been lived? When humanity has taken "progress" too far to the edge, who is responsible for fixing it? How should you spend the last days of your life? The Children asks us all of this and more, and it's certain to leave a strong impression as it does so. It's a quiet, impactful start to 2019 and worthy of a viewing; click here for more information and to get your tickets.

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