Set at a remote cottage on the coast of Britain after a tsunami wreaks havoc on a nuclear reactor, a married couple’s lives are further disrupted by the mysterious appearance of a long-lost colleague, who confronts them with a stunning moral dilemma: what does the older generation owe to those who are young? A hit in London and on Broadway. Approximate Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission.
APPETITES AND DESTRUCTION: LUCY KIRKWOOD‘S THE CHILDREN
by The English Theatre Frankfurt
Kirkwood had wanted to write a play about climate change for a few years, but wasn’t sure how to approach the subject. The facts about the impact human activities have had and continue to have on the planet are well-known. “What is interesting to me is this: if we know the facts, why are we failing so catastrophically to change our behaviors?” Kirkwood asks. “I think it’s because those changes are enormous and frightening and demand that we give up things we have all come to feel we are entitled to.”
Kirkwood took inspiration from the events that led to the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant—a tsunami flooded the plant, breached the sea wall, and triggered the meltdown of three of its six core reactors—as well as the story of the retired work-force that went in to clean up the plant. From there she fashioned a profoundly predictable disaster (“We built a nuclear reactor next to the sea then put the emergency generators in the basement!” says one character), as a way to investigate the all-too-human impulse to downplay the potential larger impact of their choices.
To set up this conflict between what you want (“life or sex or children or food or electricity,” as Kirkwood characterizes it) and what you actually need, Kirkwood turns to a sturdy and time-honored structure: the romantic triangle. The nature of Rose’s relationship with Robin 40 years ago and over the intervening decades is eventually teased out, with the play’s romantic triangle operating as both plot engine and metaphor for other unconsidered consequences of desire—particularly in an economic system that depends on creating appetites instead of satisfying them. “Capitalism has instilled a set of desires in us that are very difficult to de-program,” Kirkwood says. “Capitalism depends on growth. Our entire economic system depends on us wanting more and more, on boundless desire—and if we continue to pursue those desires they will destroy us.” In a world of Geiger counters and exclusion zones, this destruction is literal.
The Children has one location, three characters, and plays out in real time over the 90-minute duration of the play. It was a theatrical impulse born of a political one, the desire to slow people’s thinking down, and bring them into real reckoning with the true implications of their decisions. “That’s what drama is,” says Kirkwood, “looking at human beings under pressure trying to do things that they find difficult.”
In the end, these characters’ difficulties come down to agency in a culture of learned powerlessness, a dynamic that Kirkwood gestures to in the title of her play. The play’s eponymous children may refer to the two daughters and two sons of Hazel and Robin or to an abstract sense of the rising generation and the poisoned legacy their parents leave them. To Kirkwood, it refers at least in part to the sexagenarians of her cast: “The state of a child is to feel you can’t affect your world, and the whole play is a conversation about how we can affect our world.” To the charge that this is a play about a younger generation condemning its elders, Kirkwood confesses, “I believe that if I had been 20 in 1970 I would have made similar choices to the characters in the play.” Who among us would not choose our comfort? Who among us can distinguish between our necessities and luxuries: 24/7 electricity, year-round air conditioning, any fruit in any season, and all the meat we’re interested in eating? But, Kirkwood asks, what will happen if we don’t bring our appetites into scale?
MICHAEL BUTLER (Robin) is delighted to return to Ensemble Theatre Company where he directed The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley. Acting credits include the Broadway productions of Macbeth and Two Shakespearean Actors, and leading roles Off Broadway in Lovers (Roundabout), Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (CSC Rep), Spring Awakening and The Seagull (The Public Theatre), The Beaux Stratagem and A Doll’s House (Pearl Theatre) and as Bob Dylan in Jazz Poets at the Grotto (The Production Company). Of his many regional theatre credits, highlights include the title role in Candide (Guthrie), Blue Window (Long Wharf), Cyrano (Alley Theatre), Wintertime (San Jose Rep), The Glass Menagerie (Rep Theatre of St. Louis) and many roles at Center Rep where he was artistic director from 2005 to 2020. A graduate of the Juilliard School and a member of the Actors Studio, Michael is also a published songwriter and the co-writer and composer of numerous music-theatre pieces, most notably It’s Still Life, commissioned by the Whitney Museum in NY and presented at the Asilah Arts Festival in Morocco, and Shout/Twist which was developed and produced at the Actors Studio in New York with productions at the Odyssey Theatre (LA), the Public Theatre (NY) and on international tour. In his varied career as a performer, he has performed with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, portrayed the villainous Pierre LeChance on “The Guiding Light,” and played guitar and harmonica in many rock, blues, and country western bands at CBGBs and other notable dives in NYC.
LINDA PURL (Rose) Broadway: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; Getting and Spending. Off-Broadway: Mr. Toole, The Baby Dance, Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Regional: 2022 UK national tour, Catch Me If You Can. Tenderly, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Hedda Gabler, The Real Thing, A Glass Menagerie, The Little Foxes, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Road to Mecca and Tusitala (both with Miss Julie Harris), The Importance of Being Earnest, A Doll’s House, Dinner with Friends (original production), The Year of Magical Thinking, ARTISTSHippolytus, Camille, Same Time Next Year, The Miracle Worker, Little Murders, All the Way Home, Nora, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Tempest, Copenhagen, Beyond Therapy, Love, Loss and What I Wore, Oliver, Grease, Footfalls, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Three Penny Opera, The King and I…at such theatres as Ensemble Theatre Company, Long Wharf, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Old Globe, Mark Taper Forum, South Coast Repertory, Santa Fe Opera, Cleveland Playhouse, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Laguna Playhouse, The Lensic Santa Fe, Rubicon Theatre Company, Berkeley Rep, Ensemble Theatre Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival (six seasons); Theatre Princesse Grace, Monaco; Imperial Theatre, Tokyo, Japan; Royal Opera House, Belfast. Upcoming: The Year of Magical Thinking, West End. Partial film: “Mighty Joe Young”, “Leo and Loree”, “Sundays”, “Paul’s Promise”. TV recurring: “Hacks”, (Kathy Vance); “The Oath” with Sean Bean. “Homeland”, (Elizabeth Gaines); “True Blood”, (Barbara Pelt); “General Hospital” (Peyton Honeycutt.) Current recurring: “The Bold and the Beautiful”, “After Forever”. She has starred in over 45 made-for-TV movies, and is especially known for Charlene Matlock, “Matlock” and Ashley Pfister, Fonzie’s fiancée, “Happy Days” and “The Office” (US version), (Helene Beasly) Born in Connecticut, Purl grew up in Japan, becoming the only foreigner to have trained at the Toho Geino Academy. Her studies continued at Neighborhood Playhouse and Lee Strasberg Institute. She was Founding Director of the California International Theatre Festival. Purl currently tours with solo concerts. Past concert venue appearances include Catalina Jazz Club, 54 Below, Birdland, Naples Philharmonic, Colorado Springs Symphony, Crazy Coqs in London, Club Raye in Paris and Satin Doll in Tokyo. Solo albums are “Alone Together”, “Out of this World—Live”, “Midnight Caravan” and “Up Jumped Spring” and “Taking a Chance on Love”. Upcoming release: “Blue Moon”. Linda is thrilled to be back at Ensemble Theatre Company! www.lindapurl.com IG: @LindaPurl
NANCY TRAVIS (Hazel) is thrilled to be returning to the ETC stage in The Children. Exactly a year ago, she performed the one-woman show, Lillian for ETC, directed by Artistic Director, Jonathan Fox. The Children reunites her with director friend Jenny Sullivan, who directed her in Nora Ephron’s Love, Loss and What I Wore at both the Geffen Theater and Rubicon Theater, as well as The Vagina Monologues at the Canon Theater in Beverly Hills. Nancy can currently be seen in the western rodeo series, “Ride” on the Hallmark Channel. Other recent television credits include, “Last Man Standing” with Tim Allen which ran for nine seasons and “The Kominsky Method”. Her theater career began in New York City in the Herb Gardner play, I’m Not Rappaport with Judd Hirsch and Cleavon Little. Other credits include, Athol Fugard’s, My Children, My Africa and Three Sisters, directed by Des McAnuff – both at the La Jolla Playhouse. Travis made her feature film debut in “Three Men and a Baby” and went on to star in “Internal Affairs”, “The Jane Austen Book Club”, “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “So I Married an Axe Murderer”. Nancy is ever grateful to return to the theater, particularly in this wonderful play. Besides, Santa Barbara is a magical place that just keeps calling to her.
Immediately following the performance, opening night attendees are treated to a festive post-show wine and hors d’oeuvre reception with the artists.
Join ETC Dramaturg, Anna Jensen for a free, lively, and informative half-hour talk in The New Vic courtyard before each Wednesday performance.
Mingle with friends and enjoy a complimentary martini with your ticket purchase. Held in The New Vic courtyard 45-minutes prior to curtain on the second Friday of the run.
Immediately following the final Thursday evening performance, meet members of the cast and participate in an informal 20-30 minute Q&A about the show.
CAN SEE THE SHOW IN PERSON? WATCH LIVE AT HOME
ETC will partner with The League of Live Stream Theater to live stream the final three performances of The Children by Lucy Kirkwood. The live stream performances will be available to a worldwide audience on Friday April 21 at 8PM; Saturday April 22 at 8PM and Sunday April 23 at 2PM (all times pacific time). Tickets to the live stream performances will be $49 and are available at stream.lolst.org/children. To accommodate viewers around the world there will be a 24-hour viewing window for each virtual curtain time, more information is available at stream.lolst.org/children.
Ruth and Alan Heeger