Theater Review: THE CHILDREN (Fountain Theatre in Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on November 19, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles

SLOW TO DIE, OR FAST TO LIVE?

The setting is the story in The Children, Fountain Theatre’s L.A. premiere. Set designer Andrew Hammer depicts a hand-me-down yet tidy seaside cottage off the east coast of England. This remote shelter, which gets power only after 10pm, stands on a cliff just outside an “exclusion zone,” the site of a recent nuclear meltdown triggered by an earthquake and tsunami. (The double-whammy disaster must have been inspired by Japan’s 2011 Fukushima powerplant explosion.) A breakdown of uranium fuel rods now threatens to discharge radiation into the sea. ­Lucy Kirkwood’s 2016 “eco-thriller,” a crowd pleaser in London and New York, teeters on the edge of an ecological “no man’s land.”

Elizabeth Elias Huffman and Lily Knight

You hear an angry surf crashing on the rocks outside. It’s the brutal context for the left-over love of Hazel (Lily Knight) and Robin (Ron Bottita), parents of four children and four grandkids. Condemned like the land, these retired nuclear physicists face their own breakdowns. Caught up in the catastrophic shutdown, they are doggedly drawn to make the present like the past — Robin runs an organic farm stocked with doomed cows. Isolated, festering with frustrations, and only casually intimate, Hazel and Robin also have issues of infidelity.

Ron Bottitta and Elizabeth Elias Huffman

Their loyalties are tested by the arrival of a colleague Rose (Elizabeth Elias Huffman) on a bleak summer evening. Back from self-exile in the states, returning to the scene of so much failure, Rose is haunted by the bells of a drowned offshore church. When this childless technician shares her own secrets with randy Robin, jealousies arrive alongside the home-made wine and rancid crackers.

The beautifully written play is slow to come to a boil: Indeed, it takes 60 of 105 minutes to finally reveal the reason for Rose’s return. It’s a chilling challenge for her battered friends to step up and account for their “core” values, so to speak. Rose’s proposal will put their lives on a line that must be drawn.

Ron Bottitta and Lily Knight

At its best The Children interrogates the danger of taking the short view on emergencies with no expiration date. If we have to die, Kirkwood implies, we should also irreversibly own our mistakes. Three Los Angeles treasures (Bottitta, Huffman, Knight) richly explore and exploit the tangled pain of three too-tested friends. The dark humor — handled with a theatrical reality rarely seen in L.A. house by director Simon Levy — enhances the looming lessons Kirkwood delivers. Levy helps us forget that the one-act is lumbered with verbal exposition, and smooths out the “problem play” areas by heightening the motivational behavior from his thrilling thespians. It may have taken some time to feel the unseen children in The Children, but the journey is rich and highly recommended.

Elizabeth Elias Huffman, Lily Knight and Ron Bottitta

photos by Jenny Graham

The Children
Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave.
Fri, Sat & Mon at 8; Sun at 2
ends on January 23, 2022
for tickets ($25 – $45), call 323.663.1525 or visit Fountain Theatre
Pay-What-You-Want and regular seating is available Mondays

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