A profound question

SLO REP delivers the goods. The Children is enthralling, earthy, and entertaining.

So . . . first there are the sounds. The wailing of sirens, the swell of the sea, the chiming of a ship’s bell (or is it a church bell, perhaps?). Surely these are the sounds of despair, or loneliness, or sorrow.

But then comes the sound of the first words uttered in the latest San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre production—a profound but relatively commonplace query: “How are the children?” Surely you can’t link so much melancholy and woe with the confidence and hope for the future that offspring represent?

The Children, written by Lucy Kirkwood and deftly directed by Michael Brusasco, does just that. As presented here, the one-act play with no intermission is a tight, thought-provoking drama with little opportunity (or reason) for audiences to look away from the dance that three colleagues-who-are-more-than colleagues do for a riveting 90 minutes.

Karin Hendricks-Bolen, Suzy Newman and Tom Ammon

The actors playing this trio of colleagues execute their steps with generosity and grace. Karin Hendricks-Bolen, making her SLO REP debut as Rose, displays a calm, steady persistence as she slowly reveals her reasons for visiting two fellow nuclear engineers, now retired and the parents of the four (now grown) children after whom she inquires.

SLO REP veteran Suzy Newman is a revelation in her role as Hazel. Audiences familiar with her acting and directing work always come away satisfied, but she displays a grasp of character and nuance that distinguishes her work here as some of her finest yet, including an English accent that flows naturally and endearingly as she and Rose discuss yoga, salads, and uranium-235.

Tom Ammon, another SLO REP regular, delivers a solid performance as Robin (Hazel’s husband), but a couple of times during the performance he has his hands full keeping up with these two strong women. He provides a bit of levity, as well as unflinching anguish, as the play progresses into surprising—and terrifying—territory.

Brusasco has choreographed the whole with a keen sense of balance and clear intent. His artistic team has followed his lead with precision and creativity, especially sound and lighting designer Kevin Harris, for whom timing is everything on this show. Scenic designer Jason Bolen, technical director Dave Linfield, and scenic artist Lisa Langere give us a practical, workable set suggestive of the precarious position in which the characters find themselves.

In many ways The Children represents a dramatic step up for SLO REP. Choosing to present a one-act, one-set, three-person rumination on responsibility and reparation as a mainstage production deserves a standing ovation in and of itself. But make no mistake, SLO REP delivers the goods. The Children is enthralling, earthy, and entertaining.

The Children plays now through May 15 at San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre, 888 Morro Street, San Luis Obispo.