Orangeade? Check. Feisty girl-power soundtrack? Double check. Title role? No dice. Jeff Chalk is missing and the stakes are dangerously high in Clear Creek. Has the dreamboat simply escaped a Heartland town’s unguarded clutches? Or has he been kidnapped? Or, like…worse?
New York playwright Joshua Conkel’s DC premier is ripe with questions, though their resolutions are often unpalatably green. The play unfolds through the daffy idioms of four female students from Clear Creek High School whose obsession with Chalk’s disappearance catalysts them into farcical introspections. The girls launch into an aggressive examination of their own sexuality, faith, love, and friendships, ferociously jettisoning and stashing their affections. Apparently nothing in Clear Creek is safe.
The explosive Tricia, played by Marguerite French, and the maternal Lauren, portrayed by Mary Catherine Donnelly, shepherd the audience with a candidly omniscient narration. Kate Huisentruit and Jennifer Harder’s performances supply the Outcast Club with an indifferent lesbian and a spasmodic wicken, respectively. Though Tricia and Lauren are prime players, Ms. French and Ms. Donnelly also assume the roles of a teacher, parent, hitchhiker, and imaginary Jeff Chalk, giving the play a delightful scope.
While the play commits primarily to comedic flamboyancy, it also offers refreshing moments of subtler criticism. Messages like “white males are still the Holy Grails of this country” are particularly poignant when coming from a cast of misfit women.
Unfortunately though, the actors often struggle to differentiate between satire and self-sacrifice, and characters appear two-dimensional at the expense of a laugh. Nonetheless, by the end of the play, each character’s arc is tangible and surprising, despite shallowness in individual scene work. At least there’s room to grow.
Running time: 105 minutes with intermission
Remaining Shows: The Chalk Boy has closed