Left to right: Catalina Maynard, Vanessa Dinning and Neil McDonald in "The Children." Photo by Daren Scott
The very first moment of Moxie Theatre’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children” is an omen of what’s to come: physicist Rose is alone onstage, bleeding from her nose as if she’s been slugged by a prizefighter.
Grim and graphic. That’s what’s coming, folks.
You’d expect a drama set in an English cottage in the aftermath of a nuclear-plant disaster to be, well, grim and graphic. And so it is for most of its melodramatic 100 minutes. The walls of the cottage occupied by Hazel (Vanessa Dinning) and Robin (Neil McDonald) seem to close in on them as they quibble and quarrel while an invisible but deadly enemy (the radiation released by the nuclear accident) lurks just beyond the “exclusion zone.”
The presence of Rose (Catalina Maynard), who has shown up out of the blue (not really as we learn much later) heightens the tension and claustrophobia. A surface-level cordiality between herself and Hazel vanishes when Robin returns home from the house he and his wife had been forced to abandon after a tsunami swept through it. (If the disaster circumstances in this 2016 play seem similar to what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011, that’s no doubt intentional.)
It’s crystal clear that Robin and Rose share a past, so very soon into “The Children” we have ourselves a triangle. But the volatility and impulses of that will pale beside a startling proposal Rose makes to the other two.
“The Children,” directed by Kim Strassburger, can be depressing and certainly disturbing. Its nuclear-accident aftermath isn’t even the major reason why. These three people – Hazel, Robin and Rose – are lost on so many levels and react by lashing out -- at the fates and at each other. At least Hazel is able to retreat into the supposed mindfulness of yoga, but for Robin it’s booze and for Rose, who's stricken with more than just loss of her way of life, it’s a desperate desire to do “the right thing.”
Unnerving as Kirkwood’s script is, “The Children” is a showcase for three actors in fine form. Maynard, with impressive credits all over town but actually making her debut at Moxie, brings a haunted, anxious unpredictability to Rose. McDonald, seen this summer in New Fortune’s excellent outdoor production of “As You Like It,” sinks his teeth into the complex Robin. Dinning is best of all as Hazel. She’s as believable steeping tea one minute as she is exploding in another.
Credit Julie Lorenz’s set as well: the interior of a cottage that’s as cozy as one can be with a poisoned world just outside.
If you’re not at all ready for the enforced merriness of the coming holiday season, “The Children” is a fitting indulgence.
“The Children” runs through Dec. 4 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando.
"Hamilton" returns to San Diego after nearly five years. Photo by Joan Marcus
Seeing and hearing “Hamilton” for the second time wasn’t as mind-blowing as it was the first. Back in January 2018 at the Civic Theatre, Back then, I realized in the first five minutes of the show that this was something -- if you’ll excuse the word -- revolutionary. Wednesday night, again at the Civic, I beheld a “Hamilton” that was no longer surprising or startling in its ambition but very much still dynamic theater.
I was reminded once more just how seamlessly creator Lin-Manuel Miranda infused the score with hip-hop beats, in essence creating a fresh language for musical theater that went beyond even his previous “In the Heights.” I was reminded too how compelling the story of Alexander Hamilton is, Miranda’s show having been based on a book by Ron Chernow. Not only is “Hamilton” damned entertaining, but what a way to learn some history at the same time.
Now as then, the second act of the show is a bit of a come-down, emphasizing back-door politics and the crumbling of Hamilton’s personal life following an often-electrifying first act focused on the revolution. There are moments after intermission when it descends into melodrama and even piety.
Present throughout, however, are richly drawn characters, products of Miranda’s brilliantly anarchic deconstruction of the Founding Fathers we are taught from childhood to revere (there’s another word to excuse me on): a scheming, vainglorious Thomas Jefferson; a near-Machiavellian James Madison; a Judas-like Aaron Burr. All are delicious in their way.
Then there’s Miranda’s George Washington, portrayed as every bit the firm but paternal leader he was, and of course Hamilton the immigrant revolutionary himself – profound, complex, fiercely committed to higher principles but undone by his failure to honor his personal ones.
This touring production of “Hamilton” is led by Deaundre Woods in the lead role, and he brings that ferocity and damage to the fore. There’s a nearly reckless commitment on display during the signature “My Shot” number that sets the tone for a tale that will be as propulsive as the beats beneath it.
Tre Frazier is just as charismatic as Washington as Isaiah Johnson was in the 2018 production. Paris Nix does marvelous double duty as Lafayette (in Act One) and Jefferson (in Act Two). Ellis C. Dawson’s turn as Burr, who is the show’s omnipresent counterpoint to Hamilton, is a sympathetic one – until the end of the story when all sympathy goes to our fallen protagonist. The comic relief of Alex Larson as a prissy and pouting King George is gold.
The other key role in “Hamilton” is that of his wife, Eliza, but Morgan Anita Wood oversings, at times to the point of being grating.
As before, the costumes and choreography of “Hamilton” are spectacular. The American Revolution never looked, sounded or moved so well.
I’m wondering if “Hamilton” will enjoy a historic legacy in the theater as have far less daring shows (take your pick). Time will take care of that. One thing’s for certain: no one’s been able to duplicate it, on any number of levels, since it premiered in 2015.
Don’t hold your breath, either.
“Hamilton” runs through Nov. 20 at the Civic Theatre, downtown.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.