Barbara Damashek, Professor Emerita at San Francisco State University and three-time Tony nominee (for the score, lyrics and direction of 1985’s Quilters), looks for a few things when she’s deciding what plays she wants to direct – good writing, timeliness and relevance. 

“It doesn’t have to be written now, but it needs to have some resonance for now,” she said. “I like a play that creates a whole world and there’s some mystery and some danger.”

That’s why she chose to direct Lucy Kirkwood ’s The Children at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company,  playing through March 1. 

“It’s a play that has everything: drama, truth, mind, heart, and conscience,” she said. “It has unusual twists. It’s after a nuclear disaster, but it unwinds in a way that is so astonishing to me. These are wonderful roles, and the cast is wonderful. The play is so solid underneath them because it’s truthful.”

Anne Darragh, who plays Rose, a character in the play who comes back after decades away, says she was interested in the play for what it’s about as well as to work with Damashek, and her fellow cast members James Carpenter and Julie Eccles

“It’s nice to have two women my age on stage together. That’s rare to have,” she said. “Also, the topic of our generation’s responsibility to the next is timely and close to my heart.”

Artwork for ‘The Children’ by Elizabeth Lada

In the play, a married couple, retired nuclear scientists, are living in a cottage on the coast of Britain after a nuclear disaster, one that sounds similar to Fukushima. Another retired colleague of theirs comes back after several decades away, and there’s some mystery and a sense of menace to her presence. 

The way to create that is through listening and pauses that create tension, Damashek says. “They’re advertising it as an eco-thriller, she said. “But it’s not a thriller in the conventional set of the word. She sort of created her own form.”

Darraugh says people may think of The Children as about science and ideas, but there’s a lot of humor, and it’s really about how we deal with one another. Damashek agrees with her, and thinks that’s what makes it accessible. 

“It’s absolutely about relationships,” she said. “And it’s subtle and surprising. You think it’s about one thing, and it’s about another. ‘We are stardust‘ like the song says, and it applies to human relationships as well as to atomic relationships. We did some spend some time with scientists, and the play touches on the science, which is fascinating. This play has a huge appetite.”

THE CHILDREN
Through March 1

Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley
More information here