With themes of aging, mortality, infidelity, and botched responsibility, and a festering apocalypse just down the road, Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children” is a dark night at the theater. But if you’re looking for an excellent production, powerful acting and a story that makes you think and feel (and even laugh, occasionally), the Jungle’s new play is for you.
In case you’ve been thinking the Jungle under Sarah Rasmussen is skewing young, all of the characters in this play are in their sixties. The cast – Linda Kelsey, Laila Robins and Stephen Yoakam – is a dream team of older actors. Watching them inhabit their characters, interact and circle each other is a lesson in how it’s done. “The Children” is a reminder of how great they all are, and seeing them together is a rare treat not to be missed.
We learn quickly – so these are not spoilers – that Hazel (Kelsey), Rose (Robins) and Robin (Yoakam) are retired nuclear physicists who once worked together at a power plant on the coast of England. An earthquake followed by a tidal wave led to a Fukushima-style disaster. Longtime married couple Hazel and Robin are staying at a small, simple cottage on the coast, outside the exclusion zone where the house they once lived in on the organic farm they once farmed rots away. They drink bottled water. Electricity is sporadic. They own a Geiger counter.
Rose is an unexpected visitor to this isolated, out-of-the-way place. It’s not a casual visit. She wants something from Hazel and Robin, but we won’t learn what that is until late in the play. As the three catch up on the past several years, look back on their shared history, talk about people they used to know and discover what’s important to each other now, the tension builds and the sense of dread and menace grows. This is not a play where something jumps out and scares you. It’s more subtle and more terrifying. If you’ve ever seen “On the Beach,” the classic 1959 film about the aftereffects of a global nuclear war, “The Children” is kind of like that. You can run, but you can’t hide.
And what about the title? “The Children” are the children Hazel and Robin had, the children Rose never had, and the young people under 35 working at the power station, ground zero of the disaster, the heart of the exclusion zone. Also our children, and our children’s children.
If you go, as you experience the play and its many strengths – the acting, the pacing of Kirkwood’s script, Casey Stangl’s sure-handed direction, Chelsea Warren’s set design (that Jungle magic!), Marcus Dilliard’s lighting and C. Andrew Mayer’s sound – follow the eggs. Eggs are mentioned several times throughout the play, mostly by Hazel and once by Robin. Is this a game Kirkwood invented for herself? Does the egg have special meaning beyond (in this context) Hazel and Robin’s children and the young people risking their lives at the power station? Who knows? But it’s interesting to notice.
We’re fortunate to have all kinds of theater in the Twin Cities, from the tragic to the silly and the sublime. It just so happens that the last two plays we’ve seen have been gut punches: Gremlin Theatre’s “The Father” (which closes Sunday, so there’s still time to catch it) and now the Jungle’s “The Children,” which runs through Feb. 10. Coming up in early February: Penumbra’s “Benevolence,” the second play in Ifa Bayeza’s trilogy about Emmett Till. What’s winter for, if not to get serious at least part of the time?
Tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 23) at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater: 9X22 Solo: Alys Ayumi Ogura. Twice each year, and only twice, the monthly dance night curated by Laurie Van Wieren features work by a single choreographer. The 30 minutes of new, original choreography will be followed by an in-depth discussion. Doors at 7 p.m., dance at 8. FMI and tickets ($6-15 sliding scale).
Tonight at Common Good Books: Rhonda Gilliland reads from “Cooked to Death: Tales of Crime and Cookery.” Curl up with a good mystery, then try a new recipe? Sounds like a plan for a cold winter’s night. “Cooked to Death” is a foodie anthology series about crime and cooking, featuring many Minnesota mystery authors and a few from out of state. Each short story is followed by a recipe. Gilliland, who was once voted Best Home Cook by the Pioneer Press, is the series editor. 7 p.m. Free.
Thursday at the Dakota: Sweet Honey in the Rock. This is not the original group that formed in 1973; founder and lead singer Bernice Johnson Regon stepped down in the early oughts, and Ysaye Barnwell, who joined in 1979 and was a mighty presence for decades, left in 2013. But it’s still Sweet Honey, the legendary, revered and always relevant African-American a cappella quartet that sings truth to power and invites us all to rise up to be our best selves. Original members Carol Maillard and Louise Robinson have been joined by Nitanju Bolade Casel and Aisha Kahlil. Musician Romeir Mendez adds acoustic and electric bass. They sold out Orchestra Hall with Cantus in 2017, and it’s rare to see them perform in a smallish venue. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($50-70).
Opens Saturday at Artistry: “She Loves Me.” The evergreen musical by Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock premiered on Broadway in 1963 and was revived there in 2016. For Artistry’s production, Benjamin McGovern directs a cast that features T. Mychael Rambo. The story – two rival workers at a perfume shop are secret pen pals through a lonely hearts club, though they don’t know that yet – has been told many times in movies (“The Shop Around the Corner,” “In the Good Old Summertime,” “You’ve Got Mail”). Maybe because it’s a great story? Ryan London and Sarah DeYong are George and Amalia, Rambo is Mr. Maraczek. Anita Ruth returns as music director. In the Schneider Theater. FMI and tickets ($15-46). Ends Feb. 17.