The Chalk Boy
nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
September 11, 2008
Joshua Conkel's The Chalk Boy is described by its producing company as a "deathly black comedy." While the play's underlying subject matter is dark, and it is certainly funny, these two elements don't seem to come together to fit this description.
The Chalk Boy is Jeffrey Chalk, a high school boy in a small-town Indiana high school who goes missing. The play chronicles how his community is affected in the days following his disappearance. The story centers around Penny, the poor girl in school who lives in a trailer park and harbors a deep obsession for the missing Chalk. By her side is her best friend Breanna, who is hopelessly in love with her. On the other side are Lauren and Trisha, who, like Breanna, come from wealthy homes, but are the "popular girls." While Lauren is very devoted to her Christianity and getting into Stanford, Trisha is more of a loose cannon with her swearing and nasty attitude.
Through narration by Lauren and Trisha, and with the two actresses playing multiple roles, we are taken through the three weeks in Penny's life leading up to the discovery of Chalk's fate and the effect it has on her life and friendships.
Because much of the commentary on the town's reaction to Chalk's disappearance is told through the narration, and not action, it falls a little flat. The play feels longer than it actually is, party due to very lengthy scenes and a lot of repetition.
As much as we enjoy and laugh with the characters, thanks to some insightfully funny writing and good acting, they become tiresome by the end of the play. Perhaps this is because they are four teenagers. Like stereotypical teen girls, they have petty arguments, spread nasty rumors, and change their best friends and beliefs as often as they change their underwear.
The best things, by far, about this production are its four actresses. Jennifer Harder is the standout as Penny. She has this character nailed, and she is almost constantly invoking laughter, even in Penny's darkest moments. Marguerite French and Mary Catherine Donnelly fit their roles to a tee. French is hysterically funny as Trisha (my favorite is her dance-walking). She is equally entertaining in her roles as a teacher and the missing Jeff Chalk. Donnelly is a strikingly versatile actress and plays several very different roles quite convincingly. Especially noteworthy is her portrayal of a male truck driver who picks up a hitchhiking Breanna. Kate Huisentruit rounds out the cast with a great deadpan, yet emotional, Breanna.
The Chalk Boy wants to be a biting satire on small-town life and silly high school girls but is really more of a fluffy comedy. Conkel writes these girls great and has some interesting things to say, but the plot and storytelling don't measure up. Overall, there are plenty of laughs to be had but if you're looking for something "deathly dark" this probably isn't the play for you.