‘Children’ at Play at The Fountain Theatre

By Ernest Kearney —  The Children opens with trickling blood.  Just a nose bleed.  A still, silent, rather empty moment, for all to see the red droplets.

It’s the Iast stillness and silence Playwright Lucy Kirkwood permits her audience.  Nor will they encounter any further emptiness in this intensely-layered play where nearly every moment connects to both the mundane and the tragic, nearly every line exposes a familiar pettiness while hinting at an unexpected nobility, and every choice allows us the opportunity to laugh and bemoan the follies of little people until the occasion arrives when humanity’s potential is presented and we recognize the species’ salvation.  

Those crimson droplets foreshadow – and here I employ the term in its original sense – an excruciating choice. 

In a small cottage on England’s East coast, two women desperately try to determine how to occupy the same room with a marginal veneer of civility.  The effusive turbulent Rose (Elizabeth Elias Huffman) and the disciplined restrained Hazel (Lily Knight) have not seen each other for 38 years.  In fact, when Rose arrived unannounced at the cottage and saw Hazel working in her garden and came up to greet her from behind, the surprised Hazel swung about and accidently bloodied her unexpected guest’s nose. 

More surprises are to follow as, over the next hundred minutes sans intermission, The Children unravels. 

I do not mean that in the disparaging sense.  It does not “come apart” or become “undone.”

Quite the opposite; Kirkwood’s play disentangles with a deliberate determinism fringed with sly malefic detailing that finally leads to a resolution, unsettling and unforeseen, for her characters and audience both.

The two women were each employed at the nearby nuclear plant where they were “work friends;” a relationship which is generally functional, seldom personal. 

The dialogue between them comes with the rapid twirling pace of a Sahara dust devil with the terse emotionality that feels less like a reunion of two “old friends” and more like a demolition derby.

In a sense, Rose and Hazel assume the functions of the sisters Clotho and Lachesis from Greek mythology one who spun the golden thread governing a mortal’s life, which the other measured.

It is Kirkwood, of course, who takes upon herself the task of Atropos, the sister who cuts that thread.

Lesser-skilled playwrights, when in need of inserting some vital information into drama, tend to do so with the elegance of shoving on stage a tap-dancing hippo in a very bright tutu. 

In The Children, that information comes at the audience with the velocity of an MLB fastball. 

In complimenting each other for not resorting to those cosmetic extremes that leave “women looking like stretched eggs,” we learn that the plant where both worked is now under shutdown, that Hazel’s husband Robin (Ron Bottitta) also worked there with them, and that the cottage where they live is at the cusp of the restricted zone for contamination.

The unnamed nuclear plant has suffered an accident comparable to that of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi when in 2011 it was struck by the 50 foot wall of water from the tsunami that resulted from an undersea earthquake.  This disabled the cooling system of the reactors and brought about the severest nuclear accident since 1986 and Chernobyl.

Hazel, who with Robin, bought a small farm near the plant to share after their retirement, recounts being in her kitchen when the plant’s cores entered melt down and “The eggs started shaking in the box… the ground was sort of rolling.”

Hazel watched as the radiation was released, “A filthy glittering hanging in the air.” 

The government is assuring the nation all is under control and of “A cold shutdown by Christmas.”   The three former nuclear technicians however know how critical the situation is.

We learn the area has been evacuated, the plant shut down, an emergency crew tasked with the hazardous duty of preventing a greater disaster, and that Hazel and Robin are thought to be fool-hearted by their grown children and nearly everybody else for their refusal to evacuate the area so close to the deadly parameter.   

In the course of the play there is a great deal more we learn about the characters and perhaps, hopefully, ourselves.

But I will say no more on thisThe Children is a work to be experienced, not relayed.

Kirkwood’s play is insightful, vicious, accusatory, dramatic and very, very funny, or, in other words, the perfect show for the Fountain Theatre.

The care and craft producers James Bennett and Stephen Sachs have given The Children is apparent from the first viewing of Andrew Hammer’s completely realized cottage set and it does not end there.

Bottitta, Juffman and Knight have met every demand of this work superbly, “unraveling” their roles to reveal what is admirable even in people we don’t necessarily like.

 Director Simon Levy has been given a Stradivarius and has played it like one, assisted ably by a fine crew; Lighting Designer Christian V. Mejia and Sound/Music Designer Marc Antonio Pritchett whose combined contributions cannot be minimized; Accent Coach Nike Doukas, Naila Aladdin Sanders (costumes,) Shen Heckel (prop design,) with Annie Yee (choreography) and Jen Albert (fight director) all manage to serve in achieving a flawless reality. 

The Children is a work that amuses us with characters in which we recognize ourselves until it challenges us to realize ourselves.

This alone would make it theatre that should not be missed.

(Featured Imaged: Elizabeth Elias Huffman and Lily Knight / Photo by Jenny Graham)

* * *

Performances of

The Children

continue through Jan 23
Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m.
(dark Dec. 20 through Jan. 7; no Friday performances in January).

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)

For Additional Information & Tickets Call:
(323) 663-1525
or go to

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

No comments


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.