Nina O'Keefe is a woman possessed in Sideshow Theatre Company's new play.
That’s not a figure of speech: O'Keefe's character is possessed by some kind of alien force. The science-fiction conceit of Walt McGough’s two-hander is that the town (state? country? world?) has been invaded by a parasitic army of sorts, spirits that jump from human host to human host, eating them from the inside out. But unlike flesh-eating zombies, these creatures feed on memories.
O’Keefe’s Cora and her mother, Maggie (Kathleen Akerley), have managed to survive holed up in a barn. But as the play opens, Cora returns from outside not quite herself. Maggie, armed with a dime-store book of enchantments, has surrounded herself in a crude circle of gymnasts’ chalk powder—which for whatever reason, works as a force field to keep Cora’s current occupant out. The rest of the play is a tense showdown between the two, with Cora’s possessor using her host’s memories as psychological weapons against the mother.
McGough’s setup allows for some interesting exploration of a mother-daughter history with a malevolent third party at play. The problem with the setup, though, is that there’s entirely too much of it. Of the play’s 65 minutes, at least 40 seem to be taken up by establishing and re-establishing the rules of this world.
O’Keefe’s herky-jerky physical performance is tiring just to watch, though it’s nice to see something very different from this fine actor (who’ll be back at Victory Gardens later this summer in a much more delicate role in the remount of Sideshow’s Stupid Fucking Bird). Akerley’s unstinting calm, though, comes across as flat as the two go literally ’round and ’round. With so many repeated arguments, Chalk feels like a one-act padded out to reach (barely) full-length.
Sideshow Theatre Company. By Walt McGough. Directed by Megan E. Smith. With Nina O’Keefe, Kathleen Akerley. Running time: 1hr 5mins; no intermission.