Sarah Rasmussen has done it again! The Star Tribune’s Artist of the Year for 2018 has brought The Children to Minneapolis. This production marks the first time the play -- both epic and intimate in scope -- has been produced off of Broadway. It’s a tight script, filled with great dialogue, pathos and plenty of humor. Able to seamlessly connect earth-rending events to our (comparatively) small love lives, The Children is not to be missed.
The Children, a one-room drama written by Lucy Kirkwood, opens upon old acquaintances Hazel (Linda Kelsey) and Rose (Laila Robins) engaged in stilted conversation, waiting for Robin (Stephen Yoakam) Hazel’s husband to come home. Rose surprised Hazel, and Hazel hit Rose out of fight-or-flight instinct. The back and forth between the women over whether to put Rose’s blood stained shirt into the wash marks a central preoccupation with the play -- who is going to clean up this mess? Who will be the woman who holds up the world? The two main plots ask this question while mirroring one another. The more epic question is about the clean up of cataclysmic radiation disaster at a nearby powerstation that all three worked at during their youth. The second plot is about the relationship(s) between the three.
While the opening scene over the shirt between Rose and Hazel feels a bit stilted (both actresses take a few moments to really get into their accents and the rather affected, but effective!, patter of the dialogue), once Hazel’s husband Robin (Stephen Yoakham) comes home, the tension and the magic of the play comes into focus: Robin and Rose have been lovers since before Robin and Hazel were married, and Hazel has been semi-aware of it for the entire time. The Kirkwood has managed to beautifully capture not only the long-standing rivalry between the two women, but also the begrudging respect they have for one another; their relationship is a study in the way a persistent, nagging rivalry can morph into a quasi-friendship. When the other is always able to make the perfect countermove, they force neverending engagement. While on the face of it, it seems neither woman is able to let go of Robin, the truth is that they are also unable to let go of each other. Rose looks up to Hazel with nearly maternal reverence (accompanied by an almost teenage rebellious refusal to follow her example).
It is here that the chemistry of this trio (Kelsey/Robins/Yoakam) comes into sharp focus under the watchful eye of director Casey Stangl. While all three are on stage, Stephen Yoakam does a gorgeous job of paying attention to and interacting with both women with just the right amount of sexual desire and genuine love. Yoakam’s Robin feels like a real person--imperfect, imprecise, grasping, warm, and deeply sad. As Hazel, Linda Kelsey never seems to quite imbue the character with the right amount of strenuous physicality, but she strikes a very sweet spot between being jealous and confident, and between being both highly regimented and yielding. Laila Robins plays into the loud and outrageous aspects of Rose while still keeping her human and fragile. Between both Yoakam and Robins and Yoakam and Kelsey there is a tenderness, anger, and playfulness that really communicates love and the many years (and struggles) they have been through together.
Rose, who seemingly never wanted children and chides herself for never learning to pack a lunch or wear sunscreen, has a bold plan she wants Robin and Hazel to help her with: instead of letting “children” (aka young engineers in their 30s and 40s) clean up the power station disaster, she is enlisting retired professionals to do the dangerous work. This idea, and its devastating consequences for the retirees who choose to sign on, showcases a beautiful reversal in Hazel and Rose’s normal stances: Hazel has always been the type of person to stay, to clean, to raise children, to eat salad, to leave a place better than she found it. In retirement, she had hoped to allow herself more freedom, more time and space for herself without needing to be constantly cleaning. Rose, in contrast, imagines herself irresponsible -- she leaves for America, she doesn’t have children, she doesn’t like taking care of her cats, she says she likes sex too much for her own good. But in this act her irresponsibility, her childishness, is put aside for the greater good. Again, Laila Robins does a superb job with this reversal, playing up her take-no-prisoners attitude and employing it for the greater good. Linda Kelsey makes Hazel’s decision to join Rose feel like a natural outpouring of her distaste and love for Rose.
The production itself (minus a rather hokey miniature farmhouse) is restrained and really about letting the performances shine. I would highly recommend The Children, playing until February 10th.