Chalk Review - Hope at the End of the World

The sometimes stormy relationship between a mother and daughter has been told many times over in books, plays, and movies.  But I believe no relationship has been stripped down to its bare elements more than Maggie and Cora’s bond in Chalk, a new production running through June 28 at Chicago’s Victory Garden Richard Christiansen Theater.  Chalk is written by Walt McGough, directed by Megan A. Smith and is a production of the Sideshow Theatre Company.

 

Kathleen Akerley and Nina O'Keefe

The world has come to an end at the hand of mysterious aliens who inhabit human bodies and feed off the memories of the souls within.  By the time we meet Maggie and Cora, there appears to be no one left but the two of them.  Maggie sits within a chalk circle in what’s left of her home. Cora returns home after leaving to look for food, but she cannot enter the circle.  And she’s so very hungry.  Something is not right and it soon becomes apparent that Cora has been inhabited by one of the aliens.  This alien is being fed by Cora’s memories, which unfortunately include details of the difficult relationship with her mother.  Maggie is only safe because the aliens cannot pass over the chalk circle.

 

Nina O'Keefe as Cora and Kathleen Akerley as Maggie

We go on to learn about their relationship and the pain that each woman holds, all while the alien tries to both completely take over Cora and to lure Maggie out of the chalk circle so that she can feed on the last human.  Maggie has other plans, and the ensuing interplay between them shows us the love and challenges of being mother and daughter, even as the daughter fights to retain her own humanity.

 

Nina O'Keefe and Kathleen Akerley

The story is quick and intense (the running time is just over an hour).  The questions and answers are found within the women's examination of their lives through their memories.  And we hope for their eventual humanity in the face of certain demise.

Nina O'Keefe and Kathleen Akerley

 

Maggie is played by Kathleen Akerley.  Akerley’s portrayal is at once quiet and calm, but with a strength and sadness that draws us into her feelings of both hopelessness and love.  She is every mother who wants so much for her child but cannot make her child take the easy path.  Nina O’Keefe plays daughter Cora, inhabited and pained by an alien who is itself uncertain and lonely and who cannot understand why its own compatriots would leave without it.  O’Keefe plays this role in brilliant discomfort with endless awareness, uncontrolled muscle movements, and a sly ability to almost draw her human soul’s mother away from her purpose: to survive.  The performances combined to keep me on the edge of my seat to the end, while rooting for them to make it through, even though what’s left in the world is not necessarily palatable.

 

Nina O'Keefe and Kathleen Akerley

Nina O'Keefe

The set (scenic design by Megan Truscott) is stunning in its gritty reality of what the end might look like:  dirty, dark, and yet with the remnants of the old reality.  All the technical aspects came together well – lighting, costume, and sound.

 

Chalk made me think.  What would it be like to be the last person alive?  Would I go to any lengths to save my child?  I like to think I could find Maggie’s strength and plunder ahead with Cora’s determination. 

 

Check out Chalk at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave in Chicago, now through June 28, 2015.  Tickets are available here, by calling (773) 871-3000, or in person at the Victory Gardens Box Office.

 

Photos by Jonathan L. Green.

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