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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Children
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Love's Labour's Lost, Head Over Heels and Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age

Judith Eisenberg, Tom Noga, and Judy Lebeau
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Lucy Kirkwood's The Children focuses on the aftermath of a nuclear disaster and how it personally impacts three individuals. It's a smartly written and intriguing play and Theatre Artists Studio is presenting the local premiere of the drama in a chilling production with a gifted trio of actors and solid direction.

The plot centers on retired married couple Robin and Hazel who now live in a cottage on the British seaside after being forced to move from their home since it was too close to where the nuclear reactor accident happened. They are visited by Rose, a woman who they used to work with at the nuclear facility but who they haven't seen for 38 years. As they exchange small talk and the motherless Rose continually asks about Hazel and Robin's children, secrets and lies are revealed and guilt and fears bubble up to the surface. A sense of looming dread and doom unfold while Robin and Hazel wonder exactly why has Rose come to visit them.

Kirkwood's dialogue is sharp and her pacing exceptional as she slowly reveals information about each of these complex characters. While the tone shifts from drama to comedy and back again, and there is much humor in this serious piece, it's always grounded in realism. There is also an eerie uncertainty that constantly looms overhead, from the first scene when the lights come up to reveal Rose with a large spot of blood on her face to the unsettling conclusion, that will keep you guessing until the end.

Judy Rollings' direction achieves strong and clear performances from her cast that are natural and infused with emotion, and she stages the piece quite effectively on the realistic set design by Mark Baris. Stacey Walston's lighting works well to depict the changing time of day in this real-time 100-minute piece. The sound design almost serves as a fourth character in the play as the sound of waves outside the cottage creates both a sense of security and serenity and also, after hearing about the tsunami caused by the nuclear accident, a sense of dread.

Judy Lebeau is great as Hazel, the plain, seemingly easygoing and devoted wife and mother. However, as tensions rise and the conversations and situations become uncomfortable, Lebeau shows that the suspicious and on-edge Hazel is extremely strong and divisive as her rage begins to boil and truths are revealed. Judith Eisenberg is appropriately calculating as the conniving Rose who has come to the cottage for a specific reason. You may think Rose is a selfish and manipulative character, but Eisenberg's acting choices and Kirkwood's dialogue and plotting allow us to see that she is actually quite noble. Tom Noga is very strong as the playful and unpredictable Robin.

The Children is a smart, thought-provoking play about the need for individuals to accept their responsibilities and to make hard decisions. It's well worth seeing and may haunt you for hours or even days after seeing it.

The Children runs through December 11, 2022, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information visit or call 602-765-0120

Director: Judy Rollings
Set Design: Mark Baris
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Special Effects: Tom Noga
Assistant Director/Property Design: Dolores D'Amore Goldsmith

Hazel: Judy Lebeau
Rose: Judith Eisenberg
Robin: Tom Noga