Why Should Theatricum Botanicum Revive the Chalk Garden?

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater

Why, indeed, revive The Chalk Garden? Even today this comedy/drama skewering English society after World War II seems at odds with our times. But there is a very definite reason to pursue its take on British stuffiness. Directed by Susan Angelo, the Geer extended family finds ample opportunity to play together. Ellen Geer stars, along with  sister Melora Marshall, and daughter Willow Geer.


The play itself is delightfully dotty. Matriarch Mrs. St. Maugham (Ellen Geer) sputters her way through life aided by Maitland (Michael Nehring), her faithful butler, and hindered by her precocious granddaughter, Laurel (Carmen Flood). After a series of disastrous interviews of prospective governesses, only the mysterious, snippy Mizz Madrigal (Melora Marshall) remains. Madrigal’s past, finally revealed by the sonorous Judge (William Dennis Hunt), serves to heighten suspense as we await Laurel’s impending reunion with her absentee mother (Willow Geer).


As always, the Geer family works smoothly together, along with long-time collaborator, William Dennis Hunt, while effortlessly including newcomers into their ensemble. On opening night, the end result was not quite “cooked,” but the summer always provides the grist to blend the flavors of playwright Bagnold’s half-century-old play. Though The Chalk Garden itself is dusty, it shows surprising open-mindedness for its time. We can breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve come a long way.

It is difficult to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere that characterized many Victorian English Manor houses on the Botanicum’s spacious outdoor stage, but The Chalk Garden’s explosive behaviors that skewer those straitlaced mores provide a sense of breaking out of gaol. Designer Rich Rose has embellished the set with a luxurious chandelier and a bevy of side-pieces, while Zachary Moore’s lighting extends the stage dimensionality into the up-slope garden. The costumes – especially Geer’s “trouser-suits” – are sumptuous.

Later in July Haiti, a seldom produced play that purports to treat colonialism will join The Chalk Garden in repertory. Written in 1938 it, too, provides a window on the past, not only in subject matter but as demonstrations of theatrical times gone by. Together the two plays join Shakespearean fare with Coriolanus and Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible.

Theatricum Botanicum performs The Chalk Garden in rotation during its summer season, mixing Shakespearean plays and modern fare through September 30, 2018 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga 90290. Tickets range from $10.00 to $38.50.  Phone (310) 455-3723 or online, www.theatricum.com for exact schedule and ticket information.