The Children at Kitchen

Jennifer Johansen, Dean Robinson, and Susannah Berryman in The Children 

In a cottage perched by the sea abide two retirees, Hazel and Robin, once nuclear scientists. Now they practice yoga, farm, make do with the fitful electricity. Their rural idyll—if that is what it is—gets interrupted by the visit of their colleague Rose, whom they haven’t seen in nearly four decades.

Lucy Kirkwood’s mesmerizing drama, "The Children," takes a meandering path to the harrowing truths at its core, yet feels as taut as an action thriller. With abundant humor and compassion, Kirkwood pictures three people at life’s latter end who have yet to come to terms with the disaster next door: a nuclear melt-down in the very plant they served, a turning point that has driven a fissure through their lives.

Kitchen Theatre’s current production, alternately warm and chilling, hilarious and disturbing, pulls you inexorably into the play’s dangerous riptides. Astutely directed by Margarett Perry, and galvanized three powerhouse performances, this beautiful play will haunt you long after. 

In the guise of a tidy naturalistic drama involving an old romantic triangle, Kirkwood brings the Pinteresque into the 21st century. Pinter’s dramas typically involve an atmosphere of enigmatic menace with interrupting intruders and competing acts of memory by his protagonists in which background radiates with the anxiety of the Cold War. Kirkwood plops her protagonists in similar personal snares, but now in the background hums the unravelling planet, as the climate moves toward total disaster. 

As the interloper, Rose, Susannah Berryman crafts a sensuous yet enigmatic woman, mischievous but driven by a mission. She deflects Hazel’s probing with a false disinterest, grows coquettish with Rob. As she slips her mask at last, both bitterness and pride pour out, but mostly a keen mind that is reckoning what the three and their peers have wrought. 

Dean Robinson’s Robin at first appears all bonhomie and bantam rooster, parading his charm for both women. The depth of his wounds, and the lengths he has gone to assuage his grief are mere hints, until they begin to pour out. 

Most riveting is Jen Johansen as Hazel. Tightly wound, forcefully erect, Johansen plies her housework with a fury that supposes the world ends the moment she ever takes a breath. In the midst of disaster, she has determined to defeat it with cautious defiance. She is in essence a survivalist who pretends the world hasn’t shifted. Her brusqueness is both hilarious and painful. Her combative vigor invigorating to watch.

Perry’s direction gives needed breath to the play, with flights of released, even joyful energy (recalling a dance move from their college days), each curve in the play’s trajectory judged to a fine point. She is abetted by superb design. Daniel Zimmerman’s cottage set feels weather-beaten and lived in, yet its beams perch perilously over rocks, as if at a cliff’s edge.

Annie Wiegand creates a subtly shifting late afternoon, seaside light that floods the kitchen (the electricity remains off for the first half). Distant sea sounds and other small moments (a bell, a faint strange buzzing) float through Chris Lane’s adroit soundscape. Lisa Boquist once again manages to pack character into a spare set of costume choices.

The children in question are Hazel and Robin’s (Rose is childless). They are also all the children. The reckoning Rose brings concerns all our parenting of the coming generations.

A profound, unsettling and remarkable production to open the Kitchen season.

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