You’re sixteen years old. Highschool officials inform you that now you have to make a choice to pursue, say, a future in science or a future in art. You’re told you can’t have both. You choose science. That choice will have consequences that reverberate through your entire future, like ripples emanating off a stone dropped in the sea. Some of those consequences you’ll welcome. Some you’ll regret. No matter what, once a cause enters the world its effects are inevitable.
You’re twenty-five years old. Now that you’ve finished a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, you get the opportunity to take a plumb job helping to design and build a brand-new nuclear power plant that will provide energy to millions of people. You’ll get to use the knowledge and skills you learned in university. You’ll have colleagues, some of whom will become close friends. Your future is set in motion. That future involves the complex chains of effects and consequences created by the choice to work there.
Let’s step back and look at cause and effect, choice and consequence, from a broader perspective. Your choices don’t create consequences for you alone; those consequences spread out and intermingle with other consequences and choices and causes in an infinite and incomprehensibly complex web of interrelationships that we call “time”. Now turn and face the other direction. The choice you made, the choice that sent those consequences into the world, was itself the product of a series of causes and consequences and choices and effects that stretches back hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years. Your choices will effect the lives of people you don’t even know, just as the choices of people you don’t even know who lived centuries before you were born are effecting you right now. It’s inescapable. This is what it means to be a living creature who exists among other living creatures in time and space.
When we make a choice we can foresee some of the possible consequences – and some of those consequences we’ll intend to create, some we won’t. But there’re always consequences we don’t foresee because of our own limitations, or inattention, or our self-centeredness. And, to be fair, there will be consequences that we just can’t foresee because we’re limited in our knowledge and understanding.
Whether intended or unintended, foreseen or not foreseen, all responsible people ask themselves at various points in their lives a simple question that’s often difficult to answer: which consequences are my responsibility? Which consequences do I have a moral duty to address, to fix, to reverse, to stop? Sometimes the answer is simple and we’re happy to take that responsibility on. Sometimes it’s more complicated. Sometimes we don’t want to admit that something is our responsibility because living up to that responsibility could harm and even kill us. But just because it’s unpleasant doesn’t mean it isn’t our responsibility, does it?
In The Children by Lucy Kirkwood, Rose, Hazel, and Robin were all colleagues who helped create and maintain a nuclear power plant in England when they were in their mid-twenties. They were colleagues, they were close friends, and they were human beings – which means that not every choice they made was good, even if it seemed good at the time they made it. Hell, even the right choice in the moment can have negative effects that linger and haunt you for many years. Before they entered their thirties, Hazel and Robin started a family and got married while continuing to work at the plant. Rose moved away, travelling to other countries and working as a nuclear scientist primarily in the United States. As often happens when friends move away, eventually they lost touch with each other.
Now, nearly forty years after they parted ways, there’s been a disaster at the nuclear power plant where they’d all worked. An earthquake triggered a tsunami that smashed into the plant – unfortunately built on the coast – which caused a nuclear meltdown that so far still hasn’t been contained. A huge area around the plant has been evacuated. No one is supposed to enter it without special permission. This is the “exclusion zone”. Many of the former residents live just outside of it, able to look across the heath to where they once worked, lived, raised their families, and formed a community. Plumes of smoke regularly emanate from the ruined plant. Some people believe they can even see the radiation hanging in the air, like ominous glitter. Those who remain in the area outside the exclusion zone live in what will no doubt eventually be familiar to billions of people around the world as the first stage of a post-apocalypse. Access to supplies is poor, tap water is undrinkable, food is scarce. Those who can access electricity at all can only do so for a few hours a day.
Hazel and Robin have made their peace with this situation. They live in a little cottage outside the exclusion zone, surviving mostly on salad and crackers, and winding a radio every night so they can listen to news in the morning.
Then Rose shows up at their door, the old friend they haven’t seen in nearly forty years. The reunion is awkward, especially between Rose and Hazel. There’s something unspoken between them, decades-old wounds that have never healed, wounds that neither of them want to admit they have suffered. There’s awkwardness, too, between Rose and Robin – awkwardness of a different sort, as though each of them is trying to fit into old rhythms and rituals of friendship that were once effortless but which now seem alien.
Why has Rose arrive after all these years? She has a plan. Her plan is inspired by the responsibility she feels, a responsibility she believes Hazel and Robin share, for the meltdown of the nuclear power plant and the welfare of everyone effected by it. Her plan involves tremendous risk, probably self-sacrifice, and the promise of immense suffering for all three of them. She wants Hazel and Robin to join her. Will they? Can they?
This is as much as I can say about the story of Lucy Kirkwood’s remarkable play, The Children, without spoiling her carefully crafted script. Inspired by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, this play raises a number of unsettling moral questions – including those raised earlier regarding our responsibilities. Other questions it raises may be even more troubling. Is it right for one person to sacrifice their life to save another? If so, doesn’t this imply that some lives are more valuable than others? How do we decide which lives are more valuable, and which lives are less valuable? Is the life of a homeless person with no family or friends, with no obligations to others worth less than the life of someone who has a house, children, grandchildren, ties and obligations to the community? If so . . . why? Similarly, do human lives become less valuable as we age? While it’s true in most cases that a typical twenty-five-year-old will have many decades of life ahead, and therefore all sorts of joys yet to experience, all sorts of choices yet to make, all sorts of contributions and positive impacts on the world – does this mean their life is more valuable than that of a sixty-five-year-old who probably has fewer experiences, choices, and contributions to make in their future? If so . . . why? Do those who have already lived a long life – if sixty-five can still be considered a long life – have an obligation to die if doing so will give younger generations a chance to live to sixty-five as well? If so . . . why?
No matter how we answer any of these questions there are implications and potential consequences that we won’t want to accept. That doesn’t matter. They are questions we have to face because our answers to them will have consequences both large and small – consequences for the larger world and its future, as well as consequences for the smaller world of our friends and family, and their futures.
If this set-up isn’t enough to make you buy tickets to see this play right now at postproductionswindsor.ca, try this . . .
For the first time, Post Productions is staging two simultaneous versions of a play – each of them unique, engrossing, provocative, intense, and authentic. At the auditions for The Children, the top two contenders for the roles of Hazel and Robin demonstrated remarkably different interpretations of the characters, their relationships, and the story. Which one would we choose? We liked both. We thought either of them would create a compelling experience for our patrons but we couldn’t decide which one to choose. Mary Grace Weir, who had been precast as Rose a year before due to her stellar work in Three Tall Women, was invited to take part in the casting decisions for The Children. And it was Mary Grace who suggested . . . maybe we didn’t have to choose between them. What if we chose both?
As daunting as this seemed to us – and as daunting as it still seems to us several months later – we agreed with Mary Grace: we would create two different versions of The Children. They would work from the same script. They would have the same director and crew. They would have the same set and the same props. They would even have the same lighting and sound effects. This became an experiment and a way to show our loyal patrons just how different the same play could be if the cast is the only element that is changed. This makes intuitive sense to people who work in theatre, because we’ve all seen the effect that an individual actor’s choices and perceptions and interpretations have on the production the audience eventually gets to see. In this case, however, patrons could see for themselves by watching a performance by one cast at full ticket price, then watching a performance by the other cast for a $10 rebate on their second ticket.
It’s been startling and rewarding for those of us working as members of the crew and production team to see these extraordinarily distinctive versions of The Children emerge over the past few months. Each has its own undertones, its own suggestions and implications and emotions and complexities.
The relationship between Hazel (played by Linda Collard) and Robin (played by Mitch Snaden) in one version is warm and affectionate, a marriage that has sustained decades of shared experiences and struggles without losing any of the love that drew them to each other. In the other version, the relationship between Hazel (played by Cheri Scratch) and Robin (played by Joey Ouellette) is one that survived years of struggle yet fell into hurtful routines and patterns. It still exists because there is, at the very least, an underlying bond of friendship.
Mary Grace Weir, who plays Rose in both versions of the play, faced a daunting challenge, which she tackled with creativity and verve. The way Rose relates to each version of Hazel and Robin is different. It has to be different because they’re different people. In essence, Mary Grace had to create a common foundation upon which both versions of Rose could be secured, then adapt the rest of her character to the personalities and relationships that developed in each version during the rehearsal process. This is a challenge that many actors would flee from – and it’s a challenge that any great actor would embrace. We couldn’t be more pleased with ourselves for pre-casting her as Rose a year ago; it was clearly the right choice. But the credit, of course, truly goes to the actor herself.
Every honest director and producer knows that no matter how much money you pour into a production, no matter how shiny you make it, no matter how many bells and whistles and special effects and swirling lights you add, all of that is superfluous to the quality of a production. If a play succeeds, it will be because of two necessary facts: 1) the script is excellent; and 2) the actors have created authentic, believable, nuanced, and propulsive characters that hook the audience in and propel the story forward. Great actors don’t need any accoutrements to make you care about the characters they play – you care because the human beings they’ve created onstage are so vivid that you can’t stop yourself from caring about them. How fortunate we have been on this production to work with five actors – Mary Grace Weir, Linda Collard, Cheri Scratch, Mitch Snaden, and Joey Ouellette – who can not only do this, but do it in their own uniquely personal ways.
The Children by Lucy Kirkwood will be presented by Post Productions at The Shadowbox Theatre (1501 Howard Ave, corner of Howard and Shepherd) Feb. 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 & 18. Showtime 8:00 PM (doors open 7:30). Tickets can be purchased for $25 through postproductionswindsor.ca or cash at the door (if seats are still available). Presented in association with Waawiiyaatanong Feminist Theatre. Cast one (Linda Collard, Mitch Snaden, Mary Grace Weir) will be performing on Feb. 3, 9, 11 & 17. Cast two (Cheri Scratch, Joey Ouellette, Mary Grace Weir) will be performing on Feb. 4, 10, 16 & 18.
For more visit: www.postproductionswindsor.ca.