STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In a cottage in remote England where husband-and-wife nuclear engineers are living years after their nearby plant went bust – or boom – Robin and Hazel subsist on vegetables and bread, deal with power outages and more or less “are.” Their four children reside elsewhere – one daughter especially a thorn. As the play “The Children” opens, Hazel is by herself in the kitchen when suddenly she has a drop-in visitor, Rose, a co-worker from when the boom happened 38 years ago.
Hazel and Rose enter a coy and tricky byplay, a kind of nervous verbal/psychological tennis match of catching up on each other’s lives. Eventually, Robin arrives, and it’s a three-way match with the ball going every which way.
In play are the dynamics of life styles, of health, of sex, of attitudes, of science, of repercussions, of family and of decisions and of mortality.
Comparisons of inconveniences – a nuclear disaster in the play, the COVID-19 pandemic all around us today – were moving shadows around the production of “The Children” that Third Avenue Playhouse presented online Friday night.
It was a live, one-and-done production as part of the professional theater’s “PlayWorks 2021” online play reading series that continues the first and third Fridays of the month until June 25. Info: thirdavenueplayhouse.com.
By British playwright Lucy Kirkwood, “The Children” is a heavy duty, big-topic, aggressive play that lays a whole lot in the lap of the audience. For a director and players, the predicaments and dilemmas allow for theatrical, muscular hammer-and-tong mental excitement.
Monday night, that was delivered by the realistic/naturalistic nuances, inflections, energies and skills by Carrie Hitchcock and Sheri Williams Panel in the cat-and-mouse of Rose and Hazel, respectively, and Alan Kopischke in the toxicity of Robin.
Astute director Marie Kohler set the table, so to speak, for the performance excellence of the three and provided scene setups as Narrator.
The reading/performance took place remotely from four locations, with Robert Boles, Third Avenue Playhouse co-artistic director, in a fifth location as host and, following the performance, moderator of a talkback.
Monday night’s presentation started with a failure to communicate. For 17 minutes, technical difficulties provided a screen only saying such. Bummer.
When the performance finally was transmitted, it was not clean. Images froze on irregular occasions, meaning lines momentarily vanished into the vapors. Bummer, again. Much did flow, but there were plenty of reminders that the technology being employed has weak points.
Funny/peculiar/odd thing today – to grumble about what is a marvel: The bulk of the play was delivered, and a talkback allowed audience members anywhere to offer input.
What is happening with the series is akin to the Lucy Kirkwood plot. In recent years, Third Avenue Playhouse offered an in-person winter play-reading series calling on pros and experienced players in its talent pool to gather for performances with in-person audiences. The pandemic came along as an unexpected visitor, so the theater shifted to online delivery. Factoring in is a massive renovation of the theater facility, so Third Avenue Playhouse has extended its play reading series from a few weeks to five months.
A big thing is, by going online, greater access is offered to plays. Travel time is zero. Curiosity about titles can be answered. Performers can perform from anyplace.
All this is temporary, Robert Boles reminded the audience Monday night. Third Avenue Playhouse productions will be back, he said, “as God intended – theater up close and personal.”
Creative: Playwright – Lucy Kirkwood; director – Marie Kohler; technical director – Jon Ginnow
Rose – Carrie Hitchcock
Hazel – Sheri Williams Panel
Robin – Alan Kopischke
Narrator – Marie Kohler
Running time: One hour, 45 minutes
Next: “The Fifth of July” by Lanford Wilson, 7 p.m. Feb. 19.