Review: ‘The Children’ on Broadway


“The Children” by Lucy Kirkwood stars Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay, and Francesca Annis. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

A moment from when I was in college: A group of teens in hoodies, torn jeans, fake leather jackets on a warm fall day sit on a sidewalk in Evanston not far from a busy shopping street near the lake.

As I approach where those kids are, an older woman coming from the opposite direction eyes those kids hard and says loud enough for me to hear, “It looks like the ‘60s, hanging out. Boy you have a lot to live up to.”

“Up to?” I say, not knowing what she meant but wondering what it was that that generation left us to grow up with Ronald Reagan, cuts to taxes, and cuts to welfare, and leaving to a sudden rise in homelessness and people on the street. I was also thinking about a research paper I had just done about the underground press of the 1960s, the flourishing of a counter-cultural literature and how the FBI infiltrated it by creating their own underground presses, and how most of the magazines died out, though a few became alternative newsweeklies. That, to me at that time, was what the ‘60s was—a flowering, a wilting, a fading away.

The woman looked at me like I was crazy, or maybe she was crazy, saying “Up to? Up to? Up to?” to me as she walked away. (The kids, by the way, just sat there and watched this all unfold—a silly sideshow to whatever it was they were up to that day.)

That moment came back to mind when I recently saw the Broadway production of the play “The Children” at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre in Manhattan. It features the same crew from the Royal Court production: directed by James Macdonald; and starring Francesca Annis, Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay. The play is written by Lucy Kirkwood.

Spoilers ahead.


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RIP Carrie Fisher

On Broadway

This is cool. My words have made it to the bright shining lights of Broadway.

My former Times Union colleague Steve Barnes (thanks, Steve!) sent me a photo from outside the Lyric Theater, where a revival of the classic show “On the Town” has just opened in previews.

The photo shows a poster that quotes the Times Union (alas not my name, but those are my words) from a review of the musical that I wrote when the same production was presented last year at Barrington Stage Theater in the Berkshires.

Pretty cool, to be blurbed on Broadway.


Moss Hart, Act One and the persistence of You Can’t Take It With You

Tony Shalhoub as George S. Kaufman and Santino Fontana as Moss Hart in "Act One" at Lincoln Center (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Tony Shalhoub as George S. Kaufman and Santino Fontana as Moss Hart in “Act One” at Lincoln Center (Photo by Joan Marcus)

“Act One” officially opens at Lincoln Center later this week, but this weekend I saw a preview showing of it. It’s good. Not great — the story of the life of Moss Hart, the playwright who grew up poor in the Bronx and had only a eighth-grade education (he had to go to work) but who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

The production is magnificent — a rotating set, great period costumes, top-notch acting from Tony Shalhoub (as an older Moss Hart, narrating Our Town-style; as the father of the 11-year-old Moss Hart; and as George S. Kaufman, who works with the young adult Moss Hart); the young adult Hart is strongly played by Santino Fontana, who may be best known as the voice of the evil prince Hans in the movie musical “Frozen”; and Andrea Martin, nailing multiple roles.

The play (written and directed by James Lapine), though, moves a bit slowly in, yes, Act 1, and feels very much like a less madcap Moss Hart play — a little dated in trying to stay true to the source material, Hart’s 1959 autobiography about his Dickensian early 20th-century life. What also seems dated is the ease of access Hart had to some of the brightest minds of his day, despite his lack of education. Perhaps a 21st century analogy would be talented computer coders and programmers who drop out of college and gain access to the best and brightest in that field.

What was most interesting to me though was what happened before I saw the show. I wanted to see the play in no small part because I had acted in Hart and Kaufman’s “You Can’t Take it With You” in high school, back in the 1980s.

At work, one of my coworkers, when I told her I was going to see the play, said, “I performed in ‘You Can’t Take it With You’ in high school.” She’s in her 60s, which means her high school days were in the 1960s. And also at work, another colleague said, “I was in ‘You Can’t Take it With You’ in high school!” That colleague, however, is an intern, a college senior, and her high school days were in the 2000s.

There it was, three generations of people all working at the same place all having been in the same play, which was first performed 1936 and won the Pulitzer in 1937.

So if you love the theater, and if you’ve been in any of Hart’s plays (such as “The Man Who Came to Dinner”), then this play is highly recommended.