NY Theater Review by Susan Hasho



“Between Saturday 6th and Thursday 11 August, 2011, thousands of ethnic minorities rioted in several London boroughs and in cities and towns across England. The resulting chaos generated looting, arson, and mass deployment of police. The events were also called ‘BlackBerry riots’ because people used mobile devices and social media to organize.” The play Chalk Farm, a part of the Brits off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters (produced by ThickSkin), takes off from this event; and uses the riots to explore a broader territory.

The small black box space at 59E59 had 9 screens lined up 3 in a row, fizzing with static and emitting percussive eerie music with vague vocal accompaniment. Seated in front of the screens before the show, the audience was introduced to the possibility of multimedia chill. But that is not what actually happened. Two actors, Thomas Dennis, as Jamie, and Julia Taudevin, as his mother Maggie, are as warm and real as any audience could ask for; and the presence of video only adds dimension to their essential dilemma. The effectiveness of the play, by Kieran Hurley and AJ Taudevin, lies in its insistent focus on the deeper personal aspects of the mother and son’s journey set up against a society in breakdown.

The adolescent Jamie is charmed by the drama, by the thrill of the violence and the mother Maggie is frightened of the danger her son might be in. Both points of view are so beautifully created by the actors that their journey through these riots becomes both a palpable view into the psyche of city in turmoil and a family drama of tragic miscommunication. Chalk Farm is a play that delivers a whole universe in fifty five minutes, without cliché.

The direction by Neil Bettles must be called brilliant because there was never an instant of premeditation visible in all of the media and monologue—only loving attention to the experience of a small family in an unpredictable crisis and the immensity of the issues. The actors, Thomas Dennis and Julia Taudevin, are so dear and honest that the ending of the play leaves real sadness in its wake. The video static leaves a chill.

CHALK FARM began performances on Wednesday, May 21 for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 8. The performance schedule is Tuesday –Thursday at 7:30pm; Friday at 8:30pm; Saturday at 2:30pm & 8:30pm; and Sunday at 3:30pm & 7:30pm. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.

*Photo: Carol Rosegg