Play asks, 'What about the children?'
LENOX — In the near future, a tsunami has ravaged the coastline of England, causing a nuclear power plant accident. However, in Lucy Kirkwood's "The Children," the accident and its aftermath are not the focus of the play, but the backdrop for what unfolds one evening in the living room of a couple, two retired physicists, living on the edge of the nuclear exclusion zone in a cottage near the ocean.
On that evening, Hazel (Diane Prusha) and Robin (Jonathan Epstein), are visited by a former colleague, Rose (Ariel Bock), who comes to them with a request that will push each to call into question their relationships and their sense of responsibility, both personally and professionally, to create a safer environment for generations to come.
The play, which opens Thursday, July 18 in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare and Company, runs through Aug. 18.
"What worries me is that people will think it's an environmental political play, when it's actually not," Epstein said during a recent interview at Shakespeare and Company along with Prusha, Bock and director James Warwick. "It's about a love triangle in the context of a climate disaster; a technology disaster. But what it mostly is about is a love story."
And while the focus of the play is not on the disaster, its impact on the lives of those living in its shadow is ever-present, festering just under the surface.
For Warwick, the play is a love story that is also about the human spirit, of feeling overwhelmed and powerless in the face of complex issues, such as climate change, and the very real responses the characters have in the face of that adversity.
"It has almost an innocence about it. John talks about it as a love story, it is. It's about three people's different approaches to making the most of their lives in very different circumstances," he said. "It's the story of three friends, two of whom are married, and how this relationship melds and blends their capabilities and approach to helping a vision for the future that does not put their lives or anybody else's in danger.
"So, I think its about three people. It's just about three very strong people. It's about the triumph of the human spirit. These people are all very good people. They have a great professional skill in the area of the play and it's done with enormous humor and hope for the future."
For the actors, the play presented the opportunity to play characters that resonated with them, both on the page and in age.
"An interesting thing about this play is that Diane and I both play women who were nuclear physicists," Bock said. "[When these women were younger], you didn't see too many women who were nuclear physicists. It's interesting how it plays out."
Prusha added, "They really had to be the top of their field and really smart, because they came right out of graduate school [and started] working at this plant. And we were the only two women working in it. We had to be 10 times better than the men."
Over the last 38 years, the lives of Rose and Hazel have been very different, but the circumstances of their shared past, professionally and personally, come to play an important role as the evening unfolds.
"Some of the places our [character's] lives have taken [them] to, have to do with how women [in general] deal with work and love and family and how they care for the world," Bock said.
And being able to play women in their 60s, who are main characters, is an opportunity both women relish.
"You don't find too many wonderful roles for women in their 60s, I think. Younger, older, yes. There's very little ground," Bock said.
But even more attractive, was the opportunity for the three actors to work together. (Bock and Epstein are married.)
"The three of us actors have known each other for many, many years," Prusha said. "I met Ariel when I was 23, when I first came to Shakespeare and Company. I was in her and Johnny's wedding. We had children [at the same time]. Our children are best friends," Prusha said.
Their friendship has given them a sort of advantage, Bock said. "The play is very funny, but there's also this deep hurt among their relationships. It's hard to imagine working on something like that with people you don't know. Of course, you could, but it wouldn't be the same."
And the focus on the relationships between the three characters allows the play to have conversations that aren't spoken aloud.
"One thing that Kirkwood does really well is she gives you a way to think about big issues. It's not obvious," Epstein said. "For instance, there's this big toxic event happening 10 miles away, but also, our toilet is overflowing. So you get to think about how you react to big issues by thinking about how you react to little issues."
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