Scripter Josh Conkel captures the frustration of small-town girls struggling to make sense of their claustrophobic lives while dealing with a specter haunting the townfolk’s collective psyche in “The Chalk Boy.” Conkel has a keen ear for the often comical, self-absorbed posturing and casual vulgarities of contemporary teen-spiel but overburdens his thematic throughline with redundant plot threads. Helmed with admirable fluidity and pacing by Courtney Sale, this production features an accomplished four-woman ensemble that manifests a plethora of colorful, well-realized denizens of the fictional town of Clear Creek, Wash.
Striving to present a loosely constructed oral history of a macabre incident that recently plagued their town, narrator Trisha (Claire Bocking) and her pal Lauren (Amy Patrice Golden) offer an unsentimental, occasionally hilarious portrait of a former pioneer village that has degenerated into a strip mall on the edge of a major highway. In their effort to encompass all the town’s doings, they reluctantly enlist the aid of two outer circle classmates: Wiccan wannabe Penny (Sarah Rosenberg) and neophyte lesbian Breanna (Sonora Chase).
Played out over the course of four weeks, Conkel’s plot cleverly entwines the chaotic daily meanderings of adolescence with the very real disappearance of classmate Jeff Chalk. Knowing that the mysterious departure of teenage boys has been a recurring event for decades in Clear Creek, the girls face individual catharses as they flow in and out of alliances with one another. The scripter overstates the machinations of these young women, but the performances are first rate.
Rosenberg burrows into the angst-ridden psyche of Penny, who has taken up Wiccan rituals in her effort to separate herself from her peers. With wild-eyed resolve, Rosenberg’s relentlessly narcissistic teen maniacally attempts to infuse herself into the town’s growing concern over the fate of the lost boy.
Offering much-needed emotional counterbalance is Chase’s understated outing as sexually ambivalent Breanna, who is increasingly drawn to Penny emotionally and physically. Despite having to deal with her confusing hormonal urges, Chase’s Breanna projects a calming maturity that is missing in the other girls.
Bocking is on target as the gossip-mongering, perennial hanger-on Trisha, exuding an intriguing amalgam of physical sensuality and constant anxiety that she will be left out. Bocking also offers impressive turns as a comically repressed schoolteacher and the haunting visage of Chalk that invades Penny’s dreams.
Aside from embodying the persona of perky, squeaky-clean Lauren, Golden offers a compelling portrait of Penny’s high-energy loser of a mom who would like nothing better than for her daughter to become a lesbian and be taken care of by Breanna’s upscale family. Golden is also quite effective in her brief portrayal as a racist trucker who offers Breanna his own discomforting analysis of what might have happened to Jeff.
“The Chalk Boy,” which is having simultaneous premiere outings in Los Angeles and Gotham, reaches a compelling climax with the resolution of Jeff’s fate. The scripter’s inclusion of a denouement chronicling the future of the four town girls is tedious and unnecessary.