Studio Theatre closes its current final Main Series production of the season with a tight, gripping production of Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children” — nominated for Best Play at the Tonys last year — that craftily combines small-scale personal drama with life-or-death global affairs.
The play, inspired in large part by the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, takes place in one small cottage in rural England in the aftermath of a catastrophe at a coastal reactor caused by a flood. Hazel (Jeanne Paulsen) and Robin (Richard Howard), a married couple retired from careers as nuclear engineers at the reactor, are living in the cozy, run-down vacation home while waiting for the government to give the all-clear that will let them return to their house in the post-meltdown “Exclusion Zone” — something neither really has much desire to do.
Studio Theatre closes its current season with a tight, gripping production…
Their uneasy domesticity is disrupted by the surprise appearance of old colleague Rose (Washington stage favorite Naomi Jacobson), who Hazel has not seen in nearly 40 years. Hazel and Robin have met up once every few years for a quick dalliance, thinking Rose was not in the know. (She was, and silently reconciled herself to it long ago.)
Hazel greets her past acquaintance with openness but some confusion, wondering why she has reappeared, while Rose has armed herself in sharp wit and fast talk meant to head off too much inquiry. Robin interjects forced bonhomie, both delighted and disturbed to see the two women he loves in one place.
All three actors are solid, though Paulsen has the hardest task playing the most openly vulnerable of them. Jacobson plays Rose as a cunning strategist, choosing every word with care — she has a more serious mission here that belies her seeming self-centeredness.
In the final segment of this short production, Kirkwood shifts from a sentimental examination of aging and past love to a stark contemplation of the duties that we owe to the next generation, and the debts we have accrued as a society. Director David Muse finds the right balance between tension and humor, and Kirkwood (like Rose) has not wasted a word. She has introduced us to three very real characters, making their ultimate choices seem both noble and tragic.
Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“The Children” runs through June 2, 2019, at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW in Washington. Click here for tickets.