The Children at the Jungle Theater
This year I set a personal goal for myself to see more plays. While I enjoy musicals and dancing, there is something still about a moving play that really speaks to the beauty of theatre. Last year, I was especially thrilled when I read about a play by Lucy Kirkwood that would be produced at the Jungle Theater. The press release teased readers about a play that was set on the eve of a post-apocalyptic world - which you use those words and I’m already sucked in - and how an old friend arrives at a cabin of two nuclear scientists with a favor to ask.
While I don’t want to give away too much with a plot summary, I will say that the show centers around two retired nuclear scientists, Hazel and her husband Robin. They live on the British coast and reside just a few miles from a blast zone near a nuclear plant. On a seemingly quiet day, their old friend Rose pays a visit. While at first, it seems their old friend is only here to catch up however it soon unravels that she is there to ask a huge favor and a frightening request.
Kirkwood has masterfully written a beautifully layered piece of theatre that takes a very real and relatable issue in this current political climate to the forefront of our thoughts. What I appreciate about her writing is the way she never pushes the environmental aspect in how we as a society are wasting resources at a rapid rate. While resources continue to dwindle, how can the older generation make up for this to the younger generation or “the children” for what is essentially their fault? While the theme is relevant, it never seems forced and is folded immaculately into natural dialogue almost like a parent sneaking vegetables into a dish for their child.
Director Casey Stangl has taken Kirkwood’s script and implemented a nearly flawless pace. While we see the relationship between the three actors unfold, we are constantly wondering “Why is Rose there again?” However as time passes the audience continuously gets sucked into their conversations and their lives that we almost forget what Rose came their to ask. With a show that lies heavily in what happened before the curtain rose and with Stangl’s brilliant pace and staging, I was pleasantly surprised at how engaged I was when half the time you continuously go back to wondering the main question of “What is Rose going to ask?” However once you find out...it’s a snowball continuously spiraling out of control.
The cast really should all share and revel in the success of this show. They are a unit and all of their performances are only enhanced even further by their cast mates. Since there is no time skips or big scene changes, we see an entire visit play out in real time. Laila Robins, who plays Rose, is cunning and wise but is so patient with her character. She never rushes a scene and takes her time with moments of silence which is one of the most beautiful things an actor can do, in my opinion. Stephen Yoakam, who plays Robin, is fantastic in playing someone who really is stuck in having to come to grips with what he’s done in the past and how it’s affecting his current life and future. Linda Kelsey, who plays Hazel, really rounds out this all star cast with one of the most raw performances I’ve seen in awhile. Hazel is believable and real through Kelsey’s portrayal that I think it’ll already go down as one of my favorite performances in 2019 - yes I know it’s only January.
The Children is so poetic and well written that it’s baffling to me that the Jungle Theater is the first one to do it after its Broadway run. How lucky of them to have snatched it up during this time and I would say they nailed it.
The Children plays at the Jungle Theater now through February 17.