It’s better late than never to see Pillsbury House Theatre’s production of The Children. I made it to the closing weekend of the production and I’m so glad I caught it. A riveting adaptation of the Greek story of Medea, this play imagines what would happen if someone had intervened before Medea killed her children out of rage and grief at her lover’s plans to marry another. When Ben (Kurt Kwan) and Lily (Kate Guentzel), Medea’s children, are taken away from Ancient Greece into modern Maine by chorus member (Tracey Maloney), their nurse-maid (Michelle O’Neill) inadvertently joins them. Terrified that her mistress is enraged at her and causing the hurricane that they are trapped in, the nurse-maid believes that she must placate Medea, find her spell book, and return the children to her. When a sheriff (Jim Lichtscheidl) arrives to help them evacuate from the storm, the nurse-maid believes him to be Medea in disguise and, instead of going with him and the chorus member, she whisks the children away and hides them, wanting to be forgiven by her mistress more than caring for the welfare of the children.
As Ben and Lily realize their caretaker is not to be trusted, Ben tells Lily stories to calm her down. But when he realizes he cannot remember his own mother’s story accurately, things begin unravel and Ben’s hope that the chorus member will return to save them becomes faint. Realizing that they must find the hope and strength within themselves to get out of this situation, Ben’s story becomes that of another child and in a powerful, gut-punching twist, this play delves into a deep and astounding realm of dealing with trauma and hope.
Not only is this play mesmerizing and emotional, the world it inhabits is rich and beautiful, swaying back and forth between frightening and magical. The use of puppetry, beautifully designed by Masanari Kawahara, adds a wonderful level of skill and emotion, allowing the audience to go back and forth between the puppets’ movements and the actors’ emotions that they are showing and projecting through the puppets. As Michael Elyanow noted during the discussion after the performance I attended, the use of puppets prevents child actors from being traumatized every night but also allows the characters a way to work through their trauma as they shift from childhood to adulthood. The lush sound design by Katherine Horowitz, poignant lighting by Michael Wangen, and haunting set by Joel Sass blend with Kellie Larson’s props and Clare Brauch’s costumes to make a world that lends itself both to the imagination and the far too real.
This show is full of really wonderful theatrical moments – the movement of the puppets, beams in the ceiling that move as the hurricane hits, lighting that aid scene shifts but carry a certain significance at the very end of the play. This show really carries a huge emotional component that is reminiscent of another of Elyanow’s shows, Lullaby. This show has haunted me afterwards and is such a powerful, beautiful perspective on overcoming trauma, finding strength and trouble in the power of hope, and learning how to be loved after a terrible ordeal. It’s one I wish I could see again, after knowing how it all comes together, and hope it returns in another staging soon.
The Children is written by Michael Elyanow and directed by Noel Raymond. It is playing now through October 16th. Ticket and show information can be found on Pillsbury House Theatre’s website.