Backstage Review: ‘The Children’ at Bruka Theatre

The Children” is written by Lucy Kirkwood

~Review by Norm Robins~

~Photos by Zen Media~

In 2011 the crust of the earth 43 miles off the east coast of Japan snapped in a reverse thrust earthquake. It happened with power and ferocity rarely seen. The hand of God threw an ocean of water into Fukushima Province that was unimaginable before it happened and incomprehensible after. The force of the moving ocean caused houses, cars, and boats to move with it and bob around as though they were children’s toys in a bathtub. It flooded the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant causing it to melt down and flood the world with radiation. It killed 18,000 people mostly by drowning. The hand of God moved Japan’s largest Island Honshu eight feet east. The World Bank estimated the cost at $235 billion. To this day how to dispose of the stored radioactive waste is still an issue. The catastrophe forced governments to govern, engineers to engineer, and thinkers to think.

Japanese engineers had warned Tokyo Power Company, owners of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, that the design was unsafe. The breakwater off the coast was of limited use and trivial against a tsunami. The backup power generation needed to cool the reactor was in the basement instead of up on a mountain out of the way of flooding water. If you don’t keep the reactors cool radioactive hydrogen gas builds up and then explodes. The powers that be were deaf to the warnings just as the military government in World War II tried to hide the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima from the Japanese people. They kept mum about it. American military planners estimated two million American GIs and Japanese would be killed in a land invasion of Japan. Our experiences in Iwo Jima and Okinawa made that clear…and frightening. So the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb again, this time on Nagasaki. The Japanese government could no longer ignore us. They sued for peace, excruciating loss of face and all.

One of the thinkers forced to think by that catastrophe is a young talented British playwright Lucy Kirkwood. Her play The Children inspired by that nuclear catastrophe premiered in London in 2016 and in New York on Broadway in 2017. It will be performed by the Brüka Theater in Reno opening February 7th and running through February 29th.

Kirkwood took the facts of the Fukushima catastrophe and transplanted them wholesale to the east coast of Britain. She even put the backup power for her English reactor cooling system in the basement just as in Japan. She has done her research. The problem with this poetic license is that Japan is on the edge of the Ring of Fire, the periphery of the Pacific Ocean notorious for its catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis. Tsunami, after all, is a Japanese word. The east coast of Britain is not in the Ring of Fire. It has been quiescent. Okay, writers of fiction are allowed poetic license. But she could have included in her research France’s experience just across the English Channel, its geology far more similar than Japan’s. France is dotted with 58 nuclear power plants on the ocean and inland. They derive 75% of their electricity from these nuclear power plants. French nuclear power is a large export earner. So far there don’t seem to be any complaints from the French or their customers.

Michelle and I were very moved while watching “The Children.”
This play is a prime example of a beautiful script combined with passionate acting and directing to bring the audience an experience filled with emotions and empathy.

Dana Nöllsch

Kirkwood tells the story of two retired married nuclear scientists, Robin and Hazel, living comfortably and placidly if precariously in a seaside cottage on the east coast of Britain. A third nuclear scientist, Rose, shows up. They haven’t seen each other in 38 years when all three built and operated the nuclear power plant nearby, the one that has since melted down and contaminated and made unstable the land and the freshwater for miles around. 38 years ago raffish husband Robin had a sexual affair with Rose. Robin and Hazel’s quiescent life is tossed into a cocked hat when she shows up unexpectedly. That’s when the questions and the introspection start and not only about old love affairs. Who is going to clean up the radioactive, potentially lethal mess at their local nuclear power plant? Should it be 20-and 30-year old kids who didn’t cause the problem or the 60-year olds who made the problem? Rose thinks it’s a good idea that the 60-year olds go into the power plant and clean up and let the kids off the hook. The kids cleaning up in England have taken on the risk of radioactive poisoning, but Rose argues they have most of their lives ahead of them. They are the ones worth saving. Old people do not. Hazel will hear none of it…at first. Then she softens.

Kirkwood asks the question, what do we owe our children? A better question would be what do we owe each other since we are all in this together? One answer might be we owe each other the care with nuclear reactors taken by France. We owe it to ourselves not to build nuclear reactors in notoriously earthquake ridden, tsunami-prone coastal areas. We owe it to ourselves not to put backup generators in basements. We owe it to ourselves to take heed of engineers when they say dangerous facilities are not safe. Coronavirus, anyone?

If you can accept Lockwood’s predicate that what happened in Japan on the Ring of Fire could happen on the placid east coast of Britain and if you don’t mind a play with a bit too much European political correctness in it, and if you don’t mind a play that is a little bit preachy, this is a wonderfully written and acted piece of theater. It is no wonder Lucy Kirkwood is a rising star in that world. Bob Ives does a solid job directing it. The acting is wall to wall solid, doubly so for Hazel played by Cathy Gabrielli. Gabrielli plays Hazel beautifully as a conservative fidgety nervous Nelly, a constant fussbudget. Dave Anderson is wonderful as Robin, an old man who still has some embers burning in his fireplace despite a lot of snow on his roof. Rosemary Marcel portrays Rose as an older women still risqué enough to keep up with raffish Robin. There is a delightful dance scene marvelously choreographed by Kelly Cobb. The lighting and sound effects make the play yet more believable.

This is a play worth seeing not just for what it tells us but what it shows us. Its questions are worth pondering. The message has applicability well beyond the hazards of nuclear power generation.

CAST:

Robin………………………………Dave Anderson

Hazel………………………………Cathy Gabrielli

Rose……………………………….Rosemary Marcel

Directed by………………………..Bob Ives

Ticket and other information can be obtained at www.bruka.org.

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