Arts & Events
Truth be known, when you pass the big six-oh, sleep doesn’t come easy. Six am the eyes click open like some crazy baby doll and there is no rolling over to snooze. The tension –filled job, a world of worry, and the double espressos don’t help. By 8:30 pm dozing sets in. Not great for a theatre critic, but if my anecdotal observation is true, I seem to be the median age of the average theatre-goer, so it’s a good barometer. And when you see two or three plays per week, often one’s concentration slips, “watcher-fatigue” sets in, and the mind wanders. Thus, if I don’t doze, if I am rapt throughout, it is a good barometer of the quality of the production and performance.
At IMPACT THEATRE on a Thursday I was not bored for a moment and completely engaged with the performances in THE CHALK BOY by Joshua Conkel. Four talented young women, vastly unlike one another physically, temperamentally, even in vocal timbre, take an interesting but young playwright’s work and give us insight into the world and worries of high-schoolers in this early 21st C.
A classmate has disappeared, and he’s the most popular, cutest boy in the school. The disappearance of young men has been a regular, if sporadic occurrence in a small Northwestern town. The women’s involvement with Jeff Chalk, real or vicarious, is a pivot point of the play. Christianity, witchcraft, homoerotic love, vicious gossip and vindictiveness, preemptive spreading of rumors and reputation busters, the shifting friendships and allegiances of BFFs are all in play here.
Luisa Frasconi is the in-denial rebel looking for love. I’ve lauded this new actress’s performance in Impact’s “Romeo & Juliet”; she captures the eye and has never failed to give a shining performance. Maria Giere Marquis plays the Christian moral and scholastic exemplar with her own secrets; she shone in “Of Dice and Men,” and her transformations of character make you shake your head to remember it’s the same actor. Newcomer to Impact Caitlyn Tella delivers a cinematic naturalism that doesn’t happen often on the stage; portraying the would-be lover of the rebel girl in the throes of her first lesbian crush, it’s hard to take your eyes off her. Chris Quintos is the whining girl with that teenager drone, and does it so well and true that you want to smack her; she ping-pongs between vulnerability and emotional disconnect which is seemingly true of young women in this confusing time. Her comic portrayal of a snuffling wreck of a teacher with coke-bottle glasses is a blend of just real enough and caricature to invest your imagination and make you laugh.
The direction of Ben Randle in that band-box of stage underneath the pizza joint is easy and apt with no false moments of staging. He does not seem to have interfered with their natural talent and expression.
It is a bare set of a few hardback chairs, and backpack full of props. The green chalk boards lining the walls on which the women mark the play’s progress is a brilliant device, whether concocted by the playwright or the director. Monochromatic wavy special projected effects periodically are used well to translate dream states/drugged states that come straight from the experience of near-psychotic anxiety or chugging a bottle of Robitussin.
The writing is episodic and gives the women a template to revisit all the vicissitudes of adolescence they have recently graduated from. Most translations of female teenage angst in our culture are often cartoonish, from “Heathers” to “Mean Girls” to after-school specials. Only occasionally do we get a “Girl, Interrupted” foray into the stress of going through that confusing chrysalis. And too seldom are their circumstances investigated in the theatre. Young playwrights writing for young audiences is a genre Impact embraces, and their offerings are most absorbing and less pretentious than most new drama. More six-oh folks should go up to Euclid off Hearst and eat pizza, drink beer, and find out what’s in the minds of young folks these days.
THE CHALK BOY by Joshua Conkel runs Thu-Sun through December 10
Impact Theatre performs at La Val's Subterranean, 1834 Euclid, Berkeley
John A. McMullen is a member of SFBATCC, ATCA, SDC. Edited by E J Dunne.