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REVIEW: Shake & Co’s ‘The Children’ is engrossing and disarming

Characters prevail with a splendid trio of Shakespeare & Company veterans, who take on colloquial (and fully comprehensible) English accents.

The Children
By Lucy Kirkwood
Directed by James Warwick

“If you’re not going to grow, don’t live.” proclaims Hazel from a small cottage on the rural coast of England where she and her husband, Robin, have sheltered after a recent meltdown at the nearby nuclear plant and ensuing tsunami displaced them from their farm. They were physicist and engineer at the facility, which remains a dangerous threat, from its construction through their retirement. In the wake of the crisis, Rose, formerly the chief engineer, visits unexpectedly after an absence of 38 years. Old relationships and a shared history give way to the cold reality of survival—and on what terms—in Lucy Kirkland’s engrossing and disarming “The Children.”

Jonathan Epstein as Robin and Diane Prusha as Hazel in the Shakespeare & Company production of ‘The Children.’ Photo: Nile Scott Studios

Ostensibly an environmental cautionary tale, Kirkwood’s 2016 drama, which premiered at London’s Royal Court before a Broadway run in 2017, gets way beyond a “China Syndrome” premise. Detailing the plot would be a spoiler. Let’s just say Hazel (Diane Prusha) has the strongest will to survive; Rose (Ariel Brock) has affirmed her lot in life; and Robin (Jonathan Epstein), caught between the two, confronts choice. Kirkwood negotiates how the characters navigate their intrapersonal conflicts and mutual predicament with astonishing humor and nuance on multiple levels. The title “The Children” is not only a narrative reference to Hazel and Robin’s emotionally unstable eldest child but also to the children that Rose never had. It references, too, the “children,” the facility’s younger workers, still on the job and at risk, and what might happen to their children. Kirkland is asking: “What have we begot?”

The verisimilitude in “The Children” rests fully with Kirkland’s script and the cast; the fixed set seems undertextured and sterile. No matter—characters prevail with a splendid trio of Shakespeare & Company veterans, who take on colloquial (and fully comprehensible) English accents. Ms. Bock has the toughest part; Rose is an enigma of complex motivation that isn’t revealed until late in the play. As Robin, Mr. Epstein suggests a weary soul privately tortured with knowledge of his fate before he is actually confronted with a choice. “I feel eroded,” he laments. Holding the play together is the amazing Diane Prusha as Hazel—fiercely deterministic, judgmental, a real pain-in-the-ass and a tad odd in the head. She just can’t let go of the past and can’t stop keeping on in the present. “The Children” poignantly reminds that, like it or not, like Hazel, we’re all in the same boat.

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The Children plays at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Shakespeare & Company campus, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Massachusetts, through Sunday, Aug. 18. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, call the box office at (413) 637-3353 or go to shakespeare.org.

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