The play opens to the sounds of an angry wave-crashing sea. We’re in a seaside cottage. Kitchen, dining area, living area all in one small space. An old-fashioned stove sits unused, except as a shelf.
The timeframe is unclear. Is it now, or 40 years ago? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. This is the setting for “The Children,” the final offering of the Gamm’s 2022-2023 season.
We meet Hazel (Candice Brown) and Rose (Phyllis Kay) early on. Hazel lives in the cottage with her husband Robin (Richard Donelly). Rose is an old acquaintance/ colleague. They haven’t seen each other in 38 years until Rose shows up at the cottage unexpectedly.
It takes a while to figure out why Rose has appeared on their doorstep after all these years. There are references to “the disaster” and a boiling sea. An exclusion zone, and “radiation hanging in the air.”
The play was inspired by the Fukushima nuclear accident, when a tsunami devastated a seaside nuclear plant, resulting in a radiation leak and massive evacuation.
So we’re dealing with a nuclear event, and as the play unfolds, we learn that Hazel, Robin and Rose were all nuclear physicists at the plant. Now unemployed, all three have adjusted to their new reality. Doing things by candlelight, as the electricity only comes on for a short time each day. Living off the land as best they can, on a diet of salad and crackers. Creating homemade wines from vegetables like parsnips.
Robin spends some time each day going inside the exclusion zone to tend to his cows. He cares about them. Hazel cares about his exposure to radiation and the cancers it could cause.
“The Children” is dialogue-driven, smart and frequently funny. It raises who’s-to-blame questions and wonders who’s responsible for fixing things. “The Children” is an interesting title, since the only children mentioned are Hazel and Robin’s. Four of them, never seen, and only Lauren, now 38 and troubled, is named.
But the children are really the generation that comes after Hazel, Robin and Rose. The real question: how do the children deal with the “sins” of their fathers (and mothers)?
“The Children” is presented in one act, about 90 minutes long. Brown, Kay and Donelly do an excellent job, and there’s a real chemistry among them. Donelly and Kay are a married couple in real life, so it’s interesting to see them as something other than a married couple.
And kudos to Steve Kidd on his directorial debut at the Gamm.
[“The Children” runs through May 14 at the Gamm Theatre on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick. For tickets and information, visit www.gammtheatre.org or call the box office at 401.723.4266.]