Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Hazel (Jeanne Paulsen) and her husband Robin (Richard Howard), retired nuclear physicists, are staying in their seaside cottage (designed with economy by Tom Kamm) following a disaster that has placed their house and farm within the "exclusion zone." After almost 40 years, their friend and former co-worker Rose (Naomi Jacobson) has appeared for reasons that don't become clear until well into the 90-minute play. Director David Muse keeps the pressure building subtly so that when the surprises come, they're genuine shocks.
Kirkwood's language is both naturalistic and poetic, as when Hazel says a looming tsunami looked "like the sea was boiling milk" and sensing invisible nuclear radiation as "filthy glitter" in the air. The issue is the choices people make with the best intentions and the unexpected results that could threaten life for their descendants. (Sometimes the threats are more obvious than others: the playwright based her description of the disaster on the 2011 incident in Japan that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.)
Paulsen and Howard are convincing as a comfortable, well-matched couple dealing with day-to-day life in the face of the unthinkableRobin goes into the exclusion zone each day to look after the farm; Hazel stays home and tries to keep herself together. Jacobson brings an underlying electric tension to her character, who is determined to make changes for the sake of the future. "You can't have everything you want when you want it," she says when Hazel laments the need to eat salads and bread instead of cooked meals because the catastrophe has led to limits on the hours when electricity is available.
Miriam Nilofa Crowe's lighting design and the sound design by Broken Chord provide a baseline of anxiety, a nagging sense that makes the audience understand that facing the risks is less dangerous than ignoring them.