Gamm Concludes Season with Thought-Provoking “The Children”

Candice Brown (Hazel), Richard Donelly (Robin), Phyllis Kay (Rose.) Photos by Cat Laine

By Kimberly Rau

The final show in Gamm’s powerful 2022-2023 season is Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children,” a
three-person play that examines what it truly means to sacrifice.
Hazel and her husband, Robin, live in a small cottage in coastal England, and do their best to do
right by the environment and themselves. Retired nuclear engineers, they don’t seem to have a
car, and they don’t consume too much meat or electricity. That’s just as well: after a
devastating nuclear meltdown at the plant they used to work at, the electricity is spotty at best
and sometimes doesn’t come on at all.

They’ve settled into their current reality as best they can. Hazel does yoga, under the belief that
doing everything you can to maintain your health is nothing short of a moral imperative. Robin
still heads into the exclusion zone to (ostensibly) take care of the cows that the family had
before the meltdown. They don’t see their kids or grandchildren much, but they do talk on the
phone. The new normal seems to be suiting them.

And then Rose shows up, a former coworker who lives a much different life than her old
friends. Hazel starts to berate Rose for her life choices, including an over-reliance on her laptop
and electricity, but it turns out that Rose is preparing to make a much bigger sacrifice than
either Robin or Hazel could imagine. And then their friend asks the unthinkable, and requests
her old friends join her on her mission to save the next generation of nuclear engineers from a
grim fate.

Less a show about interpersonal relationships and more a work that examines what people are
willing to give up for the greater good, “The Children” is a think piece that takes a bleak subject
and humanizes it, for better or worse. Better, because it’s easy to fall in and laugh along with
the dark humor that peppers the script. Worse, because it makes it far too easy to envision a
world where such things are possible, especially on the heels of a global pandemic.

Steve Kidd directs this weighty show, with three exceptional actors bringing it to life. Candice
Brown, who was last on Gamm’s stage in “JQA,” is the good-hearted but self-important Hazel.
Clearly traumatized by past events (and we’re not just talking about the reactor meltdown),
Hazel is making the best of several difficult situations and has a lot to handle. Brown makes
excellent choices for the borderline neurotic Hazel. She’s especially entertaining when
interacting with Rose’s character, walking the line between friendly and passive aggressive in a
way most of us will recognize from our relationships with “that one friend.”

Richard Donnelly returns to Gamm’s stage as Robin, a man who doesn’t seem to let life’s trivial
matters bother him too much. Special macerating toilet overflowing? Get the broom. Cows still
in the exclusion zone? Better get a geiger counter on the ol’ tractor. Specter from your past
returns to nearly push your wife over the edge? Break out the good wine. Donnelly makes the
thoughtless Robin both entertaining and sympathetic, even as he drives you crazy.

Last but certainly not least, Trinity Rep veteran actor Phyllis Kay makes her Gamm debut as
Rose. Rose is possibly the most chaotic thing that’s happened to Hazel besides the accident,
and Kay brings a relentless, manic energy to the role, which suits Rose to a T.

The three actors have excellent chemistry in pairs and in a group, making the already brief show
(just about an hour and a half with no intermission) fly by.

This is not your run of the mill show, with an ending neatly wrapped up in a bow and answers
delivered on a silver platter. But it’s characteristic of what the Gamm has been embodying all
year: thought-provoking, outside-the-box theater brilliantly conceived and masterfully
executed. The finale to one of Gamm’s strongest seasons to date is one you won’t want to miss.
You’ll definitely be talking about it after.

“The Children” runs through May 14 at the Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick.
Tickets may be obtained online, at the box office or by calling 401.723.4666.

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