Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Children
People's Light
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Janis Dardaris, Graham Smith, and Marcia Saunders
Photo by Mark Garvin
The Children takes place in the wake of a devastating nuclear power plant accident modeled on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011. In a British seaside cabin not too far from the "exclusion zone," three retired nuclear scientists share an unusual reunion. Lucy Kirkwood's 2018 Tony Award nominated drama initially focuses on the disaster's impact and the trio's personal intrigues, but the mood shifts unexpectedly as more serious issues loom large. The People's Light production brings together a trifecta of impressive acting talents in Janis Dardaris, Marcia Saunders, and Graham Smith. Well paced, thoroughly engaging, and beautifully staged, The Children could be even better if director Abigail Adams fully embraced the darkest aspects of Kirkwood's story.

All of the action takes place within the cabin that Hazel and Robin have been living in since the tsunami damaged their beloved farmhouse. Steadfastly upbeat Hazel (Marcia Saunders) maintains her daily regimen of yoga and sunscreen while coping with the disaster's aftermath and limited access to electricity. Her husband Robin (Graham Smith) keeps himself busy during the day and drinks too much homemade wine at night. When former friend and coworker Rose (Janis Dardaris) shows up on their doorstep after many years abroad, the animosity between her and Hazel is clear, but the purpose of her visit remains obscure for some time.

The cast has real chemistry. Marcia Saunders' down-to-earth intelligence feels wholly authentic. Graham Smith gives an energetic and multifaceted performance. Janis Dardaris maintains a fierce and foreboding presence throughout.

Daniel Zimmerman's realistic interior set is truly impressive and Marla Jurglanis' costume designs are spot on. Dennis Parichy's dynamic lighting design sets the tone and creates a sense of time pressing forward. Unfortunately, neither the lighting nor the ensemble adequately convey a sense of peril. Watching Adams' production, it is too easy to forget that the meltdown happened only a few months before and miles away. Without a palpable sense of dread motivating the action, the play becomes untethered in spots, particularly toward the end where lofty issues of personal responsibility, maturity, and environmental impact overshadow both interpersonal issues and nuclear fallout.

Some of the blame for this lies with Kirkwood's script and its strange lack of detailed information about the accident itself or the subsequent impacts. In a room full of nuclear scientists there is frustratingly little discussion of the accident and its consequences. Some awkward transitions and a couple of hard to swallow plot devices also hamper the impact of The Children.

When the stage lights come up, Rose is supposed to be ignoring a nose bleed accidentally inflicted by Hazel, but there is no blood visible. That gushing blood, the sense of seriousness and doom and foreboding is exactly what's missing from this otherwise solid production. The Children is still very interesting and entertaining, but I cannot shake the sense that it could be so much more.

The Children runs through February 9, 2020, at the People's Light's Steinbright Stage, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets and information, call the box office at 610-644-3500 or visit

Playwright: Lucy Kirkwood
Director: Abigail Adams

Rose: Janis Dardaris
Hazel: Marcia Saunders
Robin: Graham Smith

Set Designer: Daniel Zimmerman
Costume Designer: Marla Jurglanis
Lighting Designer: Dennis Parichy
Sound Designer: Lee Kinney
Dialect Coach: Melanie Julian
Choreographer: Erin Sheffield
Gina Pisasale: Dramaturg
Stage Manager: Deborah Teller