By Vanessa Chen || Contributing Writer
The TDF production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle doesn’t begin so much as it throws itself at the audience—bare and curtain-less—with the whole cast on stage. The actors move about the stage, talking amongst themselves but not with the audience, in a sort of tease that is engaging nonetheless.
The setting throughout the play remains purposefully unclear; it’s an impressive creation of confusion and chaos. The set is simple, with two uneven stone slabs, which protrude from the ground at either side of the circular, amphitheater-esque stage, which slants toward the audience. Behind them is an assembly of slanted “monkey bars” draped with cloth. The metal bars guide the audience’s eyes to a crucifix raised high at center stage, which comes to mock and symbolize death, virtue, and justice. Already, at this early point, there is a low buzz of energy that will only build as the play progresses.
As the lights dim, the actors go to their places, where they each don a mask, which signals the beginning of the story. The story starts with a bloody revolt overthrowing the corrupt Governor (Theodore Feltes) and his materialistic wife (Molly Minter). In the chaos, his infant son is left alone, and a recently-engaged maid, Grusha (Kylie Logan), decides to risk her life protecting the child.
The actors all deliver compelling performances, filled with borderline manic energy. Blood-curdling screams, slow-motion violence, running and swinging from the monkey bars, and going off stage into the audience—these are all thrilling elements of the show.
Kylie Logan’s Grusha shines like a bright star on stage. Kylie portrays Grusha perfectly, completely embodying a character who is at once delicate and strong. I found myself gripped by Kylie’s intense, emotional body language. Her head is always turning away bashfully, her feet often making little hesitant steps. But in bursts of bravado, her body tenses and charges itself into danger or injustice like an animal. And her unchanging kindness serves as an anchor to all the upheaval onstage. The show would almost certainly be less impactful and emotionally resonant without Kylie’s great performance.
The play is directed by Jerrell L. Henderson, a Visiting Professor of Theatre at Franklin & Marshall, and is presented by the Theatre, Dance, and Film Department. Lastly, one element of the play I want to discuss is the use of masks. I have conflicted feelings towards this artistic choice. Their use is definitely interesting and unusual but in the end they also obscure the actors’ faces. My favorite aspect of the show, however, was the actors’ truly excellent acting.
I sat front and center, so I was able to make out the facial expressions and the deep emotions conveyed solely through the actors’ eyes that can easily be lost to people sitting further back in the audience. Facial expressions often add depth to the character, delivering emotions too minute to be seen through broad body language. I wish that I could’ve seen the actors’ faces more clearly so as to appreciate this further. After the play had finished, I took one of the actors aside and asked them about the role and purpose of the masks.
They briefly explained that the masks are a play on reality and the art of acting. Despite this information, I still thought that the masks detracted from the show, as this symbolism and meaning was not at all evident to me (and I suspect it was also confusing to many other audience members as well). Ultimately, The Caucasian Chalk Circle was an incredibly fun and engaging performance, one that definitely maintained (or possibly even exceeded) the high quality standard that theater at Franklin & Marshall is held to. After months of hard work by the students and the staff, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is yet another brilliant work, yet another fantastic accomplishment brought to life by the artistic community at F&M.
Sophomore Vanessa Chen is a contributing writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.