OGDEN — The Children, a play by Lucy Kirkwood, opened this weekend at the Good Company Theatre in Ogden. The play is the story of two retired engineers living a quiet life amidst outside chaos. Director Nicole Finney has assembled a small yet well-fit cast with Colleen Baum as Hazel, Kevin Ireland as Hazel’s husband, Robin, and Camille Van Wagoner as an old friend and colleague, Rose. The story follows an unexpected visit from Rose that brings up old memories, challenges, issues, and new fears and consequences for choices both old and new. It is a somber and unassuming play, though it left me with much to ponder long after the show came to a close.
The Children was first produced in 2016 in London and then came to Broadway in 2017. The story was inspired by the nuclear explosion in Fukushima, Japan in 2011, and it offers an opportunity to ponder how actions effect others, what individual obligations are, and how to make choices that have ramifications long past the moment of the choice.
The story is apocalyptic in nature. The three characters are former nuclear engineers who used to work at a plant that has suffered a tragic accident, and they are faced with the ramifications of what the accident means for themselves and for those who also now work at the plant. Throughout the production, which runs about 90 minutes without an intermission, the three characters build up different elements of their past and present stories that show a great deal of connections to each other: some past romances that are not quite fulfilled and some current life situations that are more upsetting and challenging than characters may want to let on.
Baum plays a woman, Hazel, who has meticulously gotten through life by controlling as much as she possibly can. Baum is able through her characterization to showcase that each choice Hazel makes and each activity she pursues, from daily yoga, to food preparation, to contact with her children, is to ensure that her life continues as she has chosen. In contrast to this meticulousness, Ireland as Hazel’s husband, Robin, plays a man with things to hide that are slowly brought out during the production in unexpected ways, with the true secrets not being what is expected in the beginning. Rose, played by Van Wagoner, is the element that comes in to upset the balance between the married couple. Rose is also the character that introduces the main thematic conflict between what we think we may earn at the end of life, and the duty we may have to ourselves and our community based on who we are and what is discovered in our work.
In this production, the action is held in a small home, with a kitchen and sitting area on stage, designed by Taylor Knuth. The set provides a quaint atmosphere and effectively provides the feeling of a quiet home. Along with lighting design by Austin Hull, the technical elements of this show provide a intimate atmosphere for a show that goes down numerous different paths before coming to the main purpose at the end. From showing the quaint home-like setting in daytime to slowly changing the atmosphere to night, the lighting focuses on the importance of the dialogue, and the simple design of the set as a comfortable cottage home serves as a reminder that even small, simple comforts should not be taken for granted. Director Finney has really guided these three actors to a place where it feels a moment of private conversation and life contemplation that is both intimate and frightening. Sound design by Kyle Lawrence adds a decidedly haunting effect, with the reminder that scientific discovery is often accompanied by unintended consequences for environment and innocent bystanders.
I am quite impressed with how all three performers can show that even with the stakes of the situation possibly very high, they could still be willing to set aside differences and share a common understanding and bond. As most apocalyptic stories are, The Children serves as a reminder of how progress and choices can and do impact those around us. The small cast of three provide an integral opportunity to reflect on choices made and the choices that might be made in dire circumstances.