Tired of huddling in your room, bemoaning the chilly weather? This weekend, CU Players is presenting a production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a play that explores the theme of family through a dynamic group of characters in even-chillier Russia. Bwog baby Zoe Metcalfe went to check it out.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle (set in the Caucasus Mountains, not just about white people), is the story of a peasant girl who rescues and raises a baby from a powerful and wealthy family, after his father is killed and his mother abandons him amidst a violent rebellion. The cast is made up of only seven actors, but together, they play a total of 49 disparate characters. While it seems like so many characters and so few actors could make the action hard to follow, the ability of the actors and the strength of the costume designing combine well to clearly delineate the different characters, without much confusion. The actors shouldered this heavy burden well, skillfully adapting to each new character, adopting new mannerisms and ticks in each new scene that become even more entertaining as the play progresses.
Chalk Circle does not shy away from explicitly explaining its story arc, actually setting up and revealing the final moments in the very beginning musical number. This eases the audience into the complexity of the action, making it easier to follow the players as they jump right in. In addition, various abbreviated musical interludes fill in any narrative gaps, allowing the play to span multiple years. I found these short numbers integral to my ability to follow the action as they functioned as very short explanatory sequences, often set to impressive clap-singing arrangements.
Chalk Circle is very much an immersive play experience. The production takes place in the Black Box in Lerner, a typically more interactive theatre experience space. I was actually given a spot on the stage, in the VIP section because I’m a student ~journalist~(rush Bwog), so I had an upfront and center view of all the action. The set designers did a fantastic job of navigating this new terrain and relationship between the audience and the actors, with the players using the odd space very well. The actors were able to filter in and out of the stage very fluidly, allowing for a seamless transition between characters and scenes.
While the play was written in the 1940s, director Nick Hermesman does a fantastic job adapting the play to a modern audience, with a couple of key examples being a rap break, a Russian square dance battle, and a dramatic floor-is-lava sequence. They also used an appropriately fall-themed butternut squash as the less needy stand-in for a baby. The squash baby is just one instance of a time the play was able to work together some very comedic, laugh out loud moments with larger discussions about the heavier themes, like the definition of family and the role of justice.
The play runs for about two hours, with one 10 minute break. There was one show on Friday, and two shows Saturday, at 1 pm and 7 pm. Come prepared to laugh, but as they say in the show, make sure to come prepared to think.