Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Children
Aurora Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Tiny Beautiful Things

James Carpenter, Anne Darragh and Julie Eccles
Photo by Kevin Berne
While the titular offspring of The Children, which recently opened at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company, never appear onstage, they are never far from the minds of their parents, Robin (James Carpenter) and Hazel (Julie Eccles), or from their friend Rose (Anne Darragh), who has dropped in for a visit at the remote cottage where Robin and Hazel live after their home was made uninhabitable by an accident at the British nuclear power plant where all three once worked. Inspired by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, Lucy Kirkwood's play addresses issues larger than even that massive disaster, but comes at them in a somewhat oblique, yet immensely satisfying way, thanks to crisp direction from Barbara Damashek and three solid performances from the cast.

Trigger warning: if earthquakes set off a phobic response, be prepared for the quite realistic (thanks to sound designer Jeff Mockus) rumblings and creaking at the top of the show, which sets a mood of crackling tension that this cracking good cast maintains throughout the course of an hour and 45 minutes of intermission-less drama. Kirkwood builds the stakes from the nearly mundane (yet still tense) to the relationship- and life-threatening, slowly revealing the history of her three characters, how the accident has impacted their lives, and how they will respond to the havoc it has wreaked on their community and future generations. (When one has to keep a Geiger counter around the house, that's rarely a sign of good things to come.)

As the lights come up, Rose is nursing a bloody nose—often a symptom of radiation poisoning, but this seems to have been caused by Rose's surprise visit and Hazel's startled reaction to being snuck up on. Hazel and Rose are clearly very different women, but with much in common, including a distaste for trying to hang on to youth through medical intervention: "You see women ... looking like stretched eggs." Though both worked at the power plant as nuclear engineers, Rose had spent many years in America and only recently returned to the U.K. Hazel regales Rose with stories of what happened during the tsunami and plant meltdown, telling her how she felt she could see the radiation, like "filthy glitter, suspended," and shares her memories of seeing the home she and Robin shared filled with silt and stench—a moment that sneaks up on Hazel, leaving her in tears. But it's when Robin finally joins them after a day in the "exclusion zone" that the heat really gets turned up.

The accident has left its scars on all three, but each in their own way feels a sense of commitment to the next generation—not only Robin and Hazel's own children, but all the children and grandchildren who will inherit the earth their forebears have misused. Hazel for one has always lived by a desire to "leave a place cleaner than you found it," but tidying up this particular mess will require a commitment that is perhaps beyond her abilities. I don't think it was unintentional on Kirkwood's part to name her two female characters after perennial shrubs, and her male character after a bird that is a harbinger of spring and rebirth.

The cast is uniformly strong, each exhibiting a sense of brittleness under a veneer of bravado. Carpenter stoops his lean frame, as though always walking into a headwind, and Darragh and Eccles circle each other like cats assessing whether the other is a friend or a threat. Damashek's direction is marvelous, teasing out all the tension in Kirkwood's script and giving it a physical representation through the movement of her three actors within scenic designer Mikiko Uesugi's lovely set. She keeps the pace brisk, sometimes stacking lines upon each other without ever sacrificing clarity, but then lets the tempo relax ever so slightly as the tragic—yet somehow uplifting—denouement resolves itself.

The Children is not an easy play, but it is an eminently rewarding one.

The Children runs through March 1, 2020, at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley CA. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $35-$70. Tickets and additional information are available at or by calling 510-843-4822.