Colonial Players’ fascinating ‘The Children’ explores bleak post-nuclear future

Annapolis’ Colonial Players takes on Lucy Kirkwood’s 2016 environmental disaster drama The Children in an intimate production which explores the human cost of uncontrolled consumption and destruction. The play, directed by Mary Fawcett Watko, revolves around a bare-bones cast of three retired nuclear engineers who navigate interpersonal struggles in the wake of the Fukishima-like nuclear meltdown at a power plant that they oversaw the creation of. While bleak, this play offers audience members ample opportunity to question how our culture engages with the world and how we, as individuals, navigate the impact our lives and decisions will have on future generations.

Photos by Alison Harbaugh, Sugar Farm Productions.

Hazel (Mary MacLeod) finds her quiet life in a cottage outside a nuclear exclusion zone turned upside down when old acquaintance and coworker Rose (Meg Venton) arrives. Along with her husband Robin (Greg Jones), Hazel has chosen to decamp from her flooded home to restore some semblance of normalcy to their lives. Rose, who has not seen Hazel since the birth of Hazel’s daughter thirty years prior, engages in verbal sparring matches with Hazel and her husband Robin. The conflicts caused by Rose’s presence reach their zenith when Rose makes a request of the couple that threatens to shake them out of their cloistered existence.

Meg Venton is a sultry Rose who is believably enthralling and emotionally unstable enough to attract attention. Her designs on Greg Jones’ Robin are apparent, yet Venton doesn’t allow the character to slip to the level of stereotype. The depth of Rose’s pain unfurls slowly as the character fits herself uncomfortably into the role of a protagonist. MacLeod as Hazel, on the other hand, provides a grounded and logical foil to Rose’s slightly unhinged behavior. MacLeod is convincingly a mother of four and a woman of science. Her futile attempts to stay healthy despite the obvious challenges posed by having been exposed to such a large amount of radiation are a testament to the strengths—and weaknesses—of her character.

Jones is an appropriately lost and emotionally bumbling Robin. He seems to believe he is at the mercy of the women in his life, but remains oblivious to the depth of their competitiveness and neurotic behavior when it comes to their pursuit of him. These three actors are wonderful at projecting a quiet tenseness and apprehension, as well as leaning into the more lighthearted moments that the script offers.

Photos by Alison Harbaugh, Sugar Farm Productions.

A huge highlight of this production is the simulation of a nuclear meltdown aided by Jenn Smith’s skilled lighting design and Wes Bedsworth’s sound design. Many of the scenes in the cottage take place during a planned blackout. Smith’s skill is apparent when the lights come back on—the lighting beforehand was sufficient for the audience to see what was occurring, yet the change is still very noticeable when electricity is restored. Likewise, Set Designer Laurie Nolan and Set Decorator Constance Robinson have done a wonderful job of creating a charming but sparse environment for this production.

My only issue with this play is the script itself. It sometimes makes promises that it doesn’t keep. This should not reflect poorly on the Colonial Players who have done a wonderful job with the material they have been given. The Children definitely falls into the category of creating more questions than answers. Regardless, this play is both topical and interesting enough to merit a watch—especially for those who are fans of interpersonal drama. The Colonial Players continue to show audiences that they are adept at translating deeply cerebral material to the stage in a way that is accessible and interesting.

Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission

The Children plays through February 1, 2020 at The Colonial Players of Annapolis—108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. Tickets can be purchased online.


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