Here she is, boys! Here she is, world! Here’s Rose!
And in Lucy Kirkwood’s extraordinary play The Children, this Rose shows up out of the blue at the ramshackle seaside cottage of two former colleagues that she hasn’t seen in almost 40 years. With blood dripping down her face. Everything’s coming up Rose, indeed.
The reason for her visit to Hazel and Robin’s cottage is one that I won’t fully spoil here, but the three of them were physicists—now retired—who helped build a nearby nuclear power station that has just melted down after a devastating tsunami (if this sounds familiar, Kirkwood was inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011).
Hazel (Paula Plum) and Robin (Tyrees Allen) are a married couple who were forced to leave the farm that they were living on in blissful retirement to live out their days in a remote cottage, which is safely outside the exclusion zone (Cristina Todesco did the set, and Jeff Adelberg the lighting). There are scheduled blackouts, they ration electricity, they can’t drink the water, and Hazel knows exactly which vegetables are safe to eat. Although they haven’t seen Rose (Karen MacDonald) in ages, the trio quickly falls into old rhythms, which includes plenty of bickering and barbed insults, particularly as the wine begins to flow. What is clear is that these three have plenty of history together, though Kirkwood parses it out to us in tiny, hazy increments. And just as we begin to think that we know why Rose has shown up, Kirkwood plunges us headfirst into a chilling moral dilemma that, at Sunday’s press performance, elicited full-throated gasps from those sitting around me.
The Children premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2016 and transferred to Broadway the following year, where it picked up a Tony Award nomination for best play. SpeakEasy’s extraordinary production—which is about as close to perfection as it gets—is directed by Bryn Boice, who won an Elliot Norton Award last year for her direction of Caryl Churchill’s Universe Rushing Apart: Blue Kettle & Here We Go at Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. There are shades of Churchill in The Children, but also hints of Pinter, Albee, and McDonagh, to give you some idea of its varying tones.
I couldn’t look away from Boice’s production—I can’t even be certain that I blinked through some of it—and this has all to do with the ingenious performances of Paula Plum and Karen MacDonald (Tyrees Allen is also extraordinary, but the women do the heavy lifting here). A master class in acting if there ever was one, acting students from around New England should be bussed in to observe.
SpeakEasy’s The Children is that rare slice of theatrical heaven, one in which the script and the production meet on the same stratospheric level, resulting in an experience that is unlike any I’ve witnessed in a Boston theater this season. Are we responsible for the world that our children inherit from us? And if so, to what end?
THE CHILDREN. THROUGH 3.28 AT SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY, 527 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. SPEAKEASYSTAGE.COM