The Children vividly imagines the worst-case scenario after an environmental disaster. | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The Children vividly imagines the worst-case scenario after an environmental disaster. 

Playwright Lucy Kirkwood's devastated world is nightmarishly familiar.

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courtesy the artist

It's comforting to regard the premise of Lucy Kirkwood's eco-thriller with a smug sense of that-would-never-actually-happen. Humans would never be so stupid as to build a nuclear reactor in a flood zone, right? And even if they did, they surely wouldn't put the backup generators in the basement. Except that's basically the setup that led to disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.

In The Children, married nuclear scientists Hazel (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Robin (Yasen Peyankov) are living in the wake of a Fukushima-like disaster. The power station where they once worked alongside Rose (Ora Jones) has remained a threat long after the earthquake and tsunami that Hazel describes with suffocating intensity. Kirkwood doesn't detail what will happen if the station's disabled reactors leak into the ocean. She doesn't have to. The implications are clear and terrifying, a threat that hangs in the air like the "toxic glitter" Hazel says she could almost see when she visited the radiated, flooded ruins of the home she and Robin shared before the disaster.

In director Jonathan Berry's taut, incisive staging, the inevitability of a worst-case endgame pervades the atmosphere. But it's the offstage children—both Hazel and Robin's and those of the world entire—who have the most to fear. Kirkwood's needle-sharp dialogue asks what is owed these children and, implicitly, what will become of them if (when) the oceans turn toxic. She offers no solutions, just a picture of a devastated world that's nightmarishly recognizable, culminating in a final, all-engulfing image that will take your breath away.   v

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