Reviewed by Deborah Klugman 

Copyright © 2021 Gia On The Move

British playwright, Lucy Kirkwood’s THE CHILDREN is in one way a thoughtful play about climate change and the moral responsibilities we face in confronting it. It’s also a too lengthy melodrama whose secrets are at once too evident and too slowly revealed in their entirety. The play premiered in London in 2016 and later moved to Broadway with the original cast under the direction of James Macdonald. A new local production, directed by Simon Levy, is now running at The Fountain Theatre through January 23, 2022. It’s a solid choice from a socially relevant standpoint, but the execution, as of press night, needs finessing. 

The story is set near the sea. Robin (Ron Bottitta) and Hazel (Lily Knight) are a married couple in their 60s residing in a small cottage after a nuclear explosion and a giant tsunami decimate their home. (The incident is similar to a cataclysmic event that took place at a nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011.) The pair are retired nuclear physicists (though we don’t learn this until well into the narrative).   

One day, after a 38-year lapse, a former colleague, Rose (Elizabeth Elias Huffman), shows up on their doorstep, startling Hazel so much that somehow (it’s never explained how) she strikes or bumps into Rose, whose nose bleeds profusely. This all happens before curtain; when the play opens, Rose is standing there, looking more than a little lost, blood dripping down her satiny-looking blouse. 

Hazel and Rose are a study in contrasts. Whereas Rose sports beautifully manicured nails and a consciously cultivated ensemble, Hazel wears gray sweatpants and otherwise drab round-the-house clothing (costumes by Naila Alladin-Sanders). The women converse, with Rose inquiring about Hazel’s life during the years they haven’t seen each other and Hazel chattering freely about her family and her philosophy of aging well. Though all seems friendly, you don’t have to be a soap opera aficionado to suspect that there’s more going on than meets the eye. An adulterous love triangle might be your first thought, and you’d be right. But the playwright has more on her mind than this, and herein lies this drama’s worth. 

After a time, Robin appears. He’s been at the ruins of their old farmhouse taking care of their cows, who somehow have miraculously survived the debacle, according to Hazel. This means that (for the sake of livestock) Robin’s allowed himself to be fatally contaminated by the dangerous radioactivity floating about in the area. That he’s opted to do this is one of a number of puzzling and illogical plot points that keep one from buying this story completely. It’s true that the play embraces multiple themes — besides climate change and the potential for ecological disaster, THE CHILDREN deals with the importance of family and of children, and the values that act as guideposts in our lives — and that’s a good thing. But there are long stretches of dialogue where life choices are discussed and long repressed feelings simmer while the very large elephant in the room, a poisoning of the atmosphere in the here and now, is downplayed, forgotten or ignored. 

On press night, it was hard not to be cognizant of the spotty British accents (dialogue coach Nike Doukas) and the performers’ concentrated efforts to maintain them while still trying to portray complex conflicted characters we can believe in. The down-to earth Knight delivered the most natural performance, moving as effortlessly on designer Armand Hammer’s artfully rundown rustic interior as if the kitchen her character inhabits were her own. Still, her Hazel seemed hardly concerned at all about the toxic circumstances around her, unusual for a scientist. Bottitta is an intense actor with a broad range, but minimal chemistry between him and either of the women was one of the factors that kept his performance in check. Huffman’s Rose, awkward and uncomfortable in the opening moments of the play, seemed ill-at-ease throughout, not having yet established the gravitas her role calls for when the drama finally does crucially coalesce.  

The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., East Hollywood; Fri.-Sat. and Mon., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Jan. 23, 2022. (323) 663-1525 or Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (no intermission) 

Photo (above) by Jenny Graham: Elizabeth Elias Huffman, Lily Knight and Ron Bottitta

Copyright © 2021 Gia On The Move

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