What do you get when you take the “live” out of live theater? In normal circumstances, you might say you lose the danger of real-time performance, but right now, it’s far more dangerous sitting in a room full of strangers. Our coronavirus-paralyzed economy has hit theater as hard as any sector of the performing arts, with Broadway being shuttered for the foreseeable future. Fort Worth’s venues are similarly idle as well, but the Stage West folks have been the first to follow Broadway’s example and put their current show online for us to see. Some of this is down to fortuitous timing, as the troupe had been able to put on a weekend’s worth of the regional premiere of Lucy Kirkwood’s 2016 play The Children before the shutdown. With those involved knowing those would be the only shows, North Texas media company committed one last performance to video in an empty theater. Between now and April 22, you can log on to and watch the play from the comfort of your own computer. The apocalyptic British farce is worth a look, and you can support this venerable company during a tough time.
What is it like watching a theatrical performance at home? I found it a somewhat disjointed experience, which I’m partly chalking up to the aged Chromebook I saw the play on rather than the streaming platform. The rest of it, I regret to say, is the fault of Shiny Box. They filmed the production with two cameras in Stage West’s seats, one more or less dead center for close-up shots and the other one at stage left to take in the entirety of the set depicting a remote cottage on England’s seacoast. There’s nothing wrong with this setup, except that the camera switches on seemingly every single line in this play, imposing an artificial rhythm to a drama that was doing just fine without it. The least a filmed version of a stage play can do is not distract you from the action on the stage. This is a distraction.
I can hear you asking, but what about the play itself? It’s set in a near-future Britain, some years after a Fukushima-like disaster of earthquake plus tsunami plus nuclear meltdown. The three characters are all physicists in their 60s: Rose (CJ Critt) decamped for America four decades ago but has returned to meet two of her former colleagues from the nuclear plant, Robin and Hazel (Bob Hess and Lisa Fairchild), a married couple of retirees who are now living at a distant relative’s seaside cottage, their previous home close to the plant now rendered unlivable. Amid the catching up and the small talk about stain removers and coping with periodic power outages, the play takes the whole first act to address why Rose is back in England, and the payoff is a rather slender hook to hang the rest of the drama on.
The play is rather a difficult piece to find the right tone for, and if director Kara-Lynn Vaeni struggles with that at times, she does well with the comic interludes, as Robin and Hazel banter in the somewhat hostile way that some married couples do. It may seem outrageous that the characters busy themselves relitigating a love affair that ended 38 years before against the backdrop of a national catastrophe, but to me, it seems like this is what human beings tend to do once a state of emergency has passed — they adjust to the new normal and go back to their petty squabbles and jealousies. Whether it’s the cast or the direction, the performances don’t suffer from being filmed. Critt has the best English accent and gives the best performance as a woman who has made peace with her aging body and solitary life but not quite with her envy of Hazel, the thinner and prettier colleague who won the man in the end.
You may quail at the $40 cost of streaming, but that’s not much more expensive than the best seats for a live show, and if you’re quarantining with three people who also want to see the play, that price tag suddenly becomes a bargain. In the end, Kirkwood’s choice of a title is cannily double-edged — while Robin and Hazel are thinking of their four fully grown children who are living elsewhere, Rose is motivated by the nation’s children, specifically the young scientists at the meltdown site who are exposing themselves to radiation to contain the fallout. If this show makes you think about the overworked and underpaid delivery and supermarket workers who are risking their own health to keep the rest of us alive right now, so much the better.
Thru Apr 22. Online. $40. 817-784-9378.