An imposing circle forms much of the stage in 'Chalk' at 18th and Union. Photo by Chase D. Anderson.

In ‘Chalk’, a Barrier of Mere Dust Keeps a Precarious Peace

Mary E. Brown and Jasmine Lomax spar in a futuristic, dystopian one-act that crackles with intensity from a mysterious backstory. It closes tomorrow. 

 

Stick your arm out / 

Stick your arm in /

You know I can’t do that

 

It’s not until well into Walt McGough’s 2015 play — a compact one, with only a simple set, two actors, and 65 minutes between them — that we find out what the deal here is. But in the meantime, the two characters — Maggie (Mary E. Brown) and Cora (Jasmine Lomax) — maintain a heightened drama that keeps viewers rapt.

Chalk is a post-apocalyptic battle between mother and daughter. On a stage that consists largely of a chalk circle and a chair, the mystery starts right away. It’s written all over Maggie’s face upon seeing her daughter walk in: a strong sense of bewilderment, tinged with anger. But her vocal response is only silence. And you could cut the tension between the two of them with an ax.

(L to R) Jasmine Lomax and Mary E. Brown spar in ‘Chalk’. Photo by Kel Murphy-Duford.

Slowly, almost regretfully, Maggie’s stone melts to a deep sadness; not overt, barely perceptible.

The two still don’t connect, physically. But the words begin to fly, and the backstory — or some of it anyway — spews out, like spit, and vomit, and blood.

Chalk, which bounces between realism and dark, dystopian sci-fi (think Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play but way shorter and less weird) centers on a standoff: Maggie refuses to leave the chalk circle, and Cora refuses to come in. And so Maggie wanders in the circle and, mostly, sits in a chair, grateful for her endless supply of Pop Tarts, while she fiddles with the radio. All static following the apparent end of the world, it provides virtually the only soundscape, heightening the sense that all is adrift and void.

Meanwhile, Cora devours cans of something — maraschino cherries and something darker … cherry pie filling perhaps? — with a sloppy vigor that leaves their red guts everywhere. It gives her the look of a ruthless carnivore. A zombie, minus the dead.

The play is all about the characters’ tension, and the actors carry its weight mightily. And though it’s difficult (by design) to gather what’s happening between them, the connection between the actors on stage is undeniable: an intensity that crackles like that incessant static on the radio. Direction from Amy Gang and fight choreography by Alyssa Kay Matthews make the most of it.

Chalk is a creepy-ish tale, fitting for the spider- and ghost-filled season around Halloween. But more than that, it’s a story that rings true about the barriers we put out, with family and others, where the decision to traverse them (or not) is fully within our power.

The chalk is easy to step around, if we want to.

The dust-ups throughout the play remind us of the very real fallout that might happen if we do.


Chalk runs through 11/3 at 18th & Union in the Central District. Tickets are $15-28 (sliding scale for all), available hereAccessibility notes: restroom is gender-neutral, single-stall; theatre can be made wheelchair accessible with a ramp, but the restroom is not — please contact venue ahead of time to ensure smooth access.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.