BWW Reviews: Actresses in CHALK GARDEN Elevate Problematic and Dated Script
What I wouldn't give to have been alive and in New York for the 1955-1956 Season. Several lauded new plays-including The Diary of Anne Frank, Bus Stop, Inherit the Wind, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-all made their Broadway debuts during that season. That quartet of classics is certainly more recognized and popular than The Chalk Garden. It's a shame that the play has been somewhat forgotten. The drama gives its stars a treasure trove of material to work with, something made quite clear in Sam Bass Theatre's current production, directed by Frank Benge.
The play, written by Enid Bagnold, centers on Laurel, a precocious and challenging teen who lives in the care of her grandmother, Mrs. St. Maugham, in a lavish manor in the English countryside. The difficult Laurel has a habit of driving away her governesses, and when the mysterious Miss Madrigal takes the job, Laurel becomes determined to expose any secrets Miss Madrigal may have. Of course, Laurel has some secrets of her own to protect.
The only problems with the production are of Bagnold's doing. Her script and characters seem a little dated for modern audiences, and I would even assume that they'd be dated in 1955. For example, Miss Madrigal never uses the telephone. When asked why, she states, "It disturbs me to join two worlds," as if the telephone is a magical, devilish tool of witchcraft. Every line of dialogue has the timbre of the affected Victorian era way of speaking, something which seems out of place given its mid-1950s origin and this production's mid 1960s setting. However, sometimes that clash between times works in The Chalk Garden's favor. There are plenty of mentions, some overt and some more indirect, of how the characters are caught between times and cultures. Some are trying to maintain Victorian era principles, while others are trying to escape them (or in the case of pyromaniac Laurel, burn them down).
Textual oddities aside, Sam Bass Theatre's current production of the play features a trio of actresses who excel at crafting nuanced characters that draw you in. Mary Southon brings a dignified grace to St. Maugham. This is a woman who calculates every physical gesture and word spoken, and Southon makes that very clear. As Miss Madrigal, Anita Tecce gives a haunting performance. With her blank, catatonic stare and almost monotone line delivery, Tecce plays the role as a woman so terrified that her secrets will come out that she's barely going through the motions of life. But the true stand-out is Lindsay Snyder as Laurel. The twenty-something actress brings a dangerousness to the teenager, and it's clear that she's having fun with the witty, cunning, nearly villainous character. Also worth note are the detailed set, designed by Frank Benge and Michael Vohs, and the stunning vintage costumes by Veronica Prior.
While the dated text of The Chalk Garden may have been virtually forgotten since its premiere almost 60 years ago, the actresses at the forefront of Sam Bass's production are certainly memorable.
THE CHALK GARDEN plays Sam Bass Theatre at 600 Lee Street, Round Rock now thru May 3rd. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $13-$18. For tickets and information, please visit www.sambasstheatre.org