Monday, February 10, 2020

Characters confront mortality in 'The Children'

James Carpenter as Robin, Julie Eccles (center) as Hazel and Anne Darragh as Rose enjoy a dance from their past.
Combine three veteran Bay Area actors with a brilliant director and an intriguing play, and what you have is Aurora Theatre Company’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children.”

It opens with the unexpected arrival of Rose (Anne Darragh), a friend and former colleague whom Hazel (Julie Eccles) hasn’t seen in more than 30 years.

Robin and Hazel have a serious talk.
Hazel and her husband, Robin (James Carpenter), live in a relative’s cottage in an English seaside village.

They’ve been there since being forced to retreat from their farm near the nuclear power plant that suffered a meltdown after a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Because the plant has been crippled, they have no electricity until 10 p.m. and must drink bottled rather than tap water.

Playwright Kirkwood says she bases this part of her plot on the disaster that struck the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011.

Rose, Robin and Hazel are retired nuclear physicists in their 60s who had worked at the (fictional) English plant.

The play’s title refers not only to Hazel and Robin’s four adult children but also to the relatively young scientists trying to contain the damage and shut the plant down.

The never-married Rose is visiting to see if she can convince her hosts to join her and other older scientists to replace those workers and give them a chance to live longer, for the danger is deadly.

Thus Hazel and Robin must confront their own mortality, as does Rose, who has already had breast cancer. All three deal with their concerns in their own way.

Other issues concern the personal relationships among the characters. For example, it soon becomes clear that Robin and Rose have been intimate within the recent past.

There also are frequent references to one of Hazel and Robin’s children, Lauren, who’s in her 30s but who apparently has problems that aren’t made clear.

Director Barbara Damashek skillfully and sensitively guides these fine actors through the play’s emotional ups and downs. She mines both its humor, especially in the earlier moments, and the strong feelings evoked by the situation and the characters’ relationships.

She’s aided in her efforts by intimacy and movement choreographer Natalie Greene, along with set designer Mikiko Uesugi, costume designer Cassandra Carpenter, lighting designer Ray Oppenheimer and sound designer Jeff Mockus.

Altogether this production has staying power and provokes much thought.

Running about an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission, it will continue through March 1 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley.

For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne