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Susan Angelo directs members of the Geer family
in revival of Enid Bagnold’s ‘The Chalk Garden’
TOPANGA, Calif (May 31, 2018) –– A mystery of hidden pasts, lost loves and false identities in a world where living things cannot grow. Members of the Geer family star in a revival of The Chalk Garden by Enid Bagnold, a unique comedy that blends witty humor with insightful truths. Susan Angelo directs Bagnold’s captivating psychological chamber piece for a June 30 opening at Theatricum Botanicum’s outdoor amphitheater in Topanga.
Inspired by Bagnold’s own garden at North End House near Brighton, Sussex, The Chalk Garden is set in a faded manor house by the sea. Dyed-in-the-wool British dowager Mrs. St. Maugham (Ellen Geer) is an eccentric with two obsessions: caring for her troubled teenage granddaughter, Laurel (Carmen Flood), and growing a traditional English garden in the harsh chalk soil of the surrounding grounds. The mysterious Miss Madrigal (Melora Marshall), with her keen knowledge of gardening, is hastily hired as a governess despite her lack of references — to the consternation of household valet Maitland (Michael Nehring). Then, Laurel’s remarried mother, Olivia (Willow Geer) arrives to claim back her daughter. But it’s not until an elderly judge (William Dennis Hunt) is invited for lunch that a dark secret is revealed.
“There are so many intertwining themes and ideas in this multi-layered play,” says Angelo. “It’s about the old guard giving way to the new, about fostering or stagnating growth, about the search for justice and how the truth ultimately sets us free. The relationships are human and complex. Beneath the comic English manner style, there is mystery, jealousy and deep longing. So many secrets, and a lot of intrigue.”
When The Chalk Garden premiered on Broadway in 1955. The New York Herald Tribune called it “a very fresh and personal kind of play with wit, literacy, and an almost unearthly integrity.” The production received several Tony Award nominations including best play. It made its London debut at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in April 1956, directed by John Gielgud with Edith Evans as Mrs. St. Maugham and Peggy Ashcroft as Miss Madrigal. Edith Evans reprised her role in the 1964 film version, for which she received an Academy Award nomination, and again in 1968 for a BBC radio adaptation. The play has been revived numerous times on Broadway, including a Roundabout Theatre production in 1982 that received the Outer Critics Circle Award for best revival as well a performance Obie for Irene Worth, who played Miss Madrigal.
The creative team for Theatricum’s production of The Chalk Garden includes set designer Rich Rose, lighting designer Zach Moore, sound designer Israel Heller, costume designer Jordan Marc Diamond and prop master Sydney Russell. The production stage manager is Elna Kordijan.
Enid Bagnold (1889–1981) was an English novelist and playwright, best known for her broad range of subject and style. The daughter of an army officer, Bagnold spent her early childhood in Jamaica and attended schools in England and France. She served with the British women’s services during World War I. Her earliest books — “A Diary Without Dates” (1917) and “The Happy Foreigner” (1920) — describe her wartime experiences. In 1920, she married Sir Roderick Jones (1877–1962), who for 25 years was chairman of the news agency Reuters, Ltd. Bagnold’s best-known work is the novel “National Velvet” (1935), which tells the story of an ambitious 14-year-old girl who rides to victory in Great Britain’s Grand National steeplechase on a horse bought for only £10. The 1944 film version starred a young Elizabeth Taylor. Two quite different novels are “The Squire,” also published as “The Door of Life” (1938), which conveys the mood of expectancy in a household awaiting the birth of a child, and “The Loved and Envied” (1951), a study of a woman facing the approach of old age. As a playwright, her other stage works include Four Plays (1970) and A Matter of Gravity (1975).
At Theatricum, The Chalk Garden will run in repertory with productions of Coriolanus by William Shakespeare; Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Crucible by Arthur Miller; and a rare revival of Haiti by William DuBois, originally presented by the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project in 1938 (opening July 28). All five mainstage productions will play in repertory through Sept. 30.
Unlike most theaters in the L.A. area that stage continuous runs of a single play, Theatricum, using a company of actors, will perform each of the plays in repertory, making it possible to see all five mainstage plays in a single summer weekend.
Theatricum Botanicum has been named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine, “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine, and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly. “The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum’s maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn’t get any better than this,” writes StageSceneLA. Says Los Angeles magazine, “The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills.” In 2017, Theatricum was named “one of the best outdoor theaters around the world” by the Daily Beast.
Theatricum’s beginnings can be traced to the early 1950s when Will Geer, a victim of the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist (before he became known as the beloved Grandpa on The Waltons), opened a theater for blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property in Topanga. Friends such as Ford Rainey, John Randolph and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties. Today, two outdoor amphitheaters are situated in the natural canyon ravine, where audiences are able to relax and enjoy the wilderness during an afternoon or evening’s performance. Theatricum’s main stage amphitheater sports a new and improved sun shade for increased audience comfort, installed with support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Ralph M. Parson’s Foundation. Theatricum is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Margaret Harford Award for “sustained excellence,” which is the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s highest honor.
The outdoor amphitheater is terraced into the hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.
The Chalk Garden opens on Saturday, June 30 at 8 p.m. and continues through Sept. 30. Tickets range from $10 – $38.50; children 4 and under are free. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310–455-3723 or visit www.theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum and instagram: @theatricum_botanicum.
Details for Calendar Listings
‘The Chalk Garden’
The Chalk Garden — An outdoor production of Enid Bagnold’s unique comedy that blends witty humor with insightful truths. Dyed-in-the-wool British dowager Mrs. St. Maugham is an eccentric with two obsessions: caring for her troubled teenage granddaughter and growing a traditional English garden in the harsh chalk soil of the surrounding grounds. When the mysterious Miss Madrigal, with her keen knowledge of gardening, is hired as a governess despite her lack of references, she brings along a dark secret.
• Written by Enid Bagnold
• Directed by Susan Angelo
• Starring Carmen Flood, Ellen Geer, Willow Geer, William Dennis Hunt, Melora Marshall and Michael Nehring
• Presented by Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
Performances: June 30 – Sept. 30:
• Saturday, June 30 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, July 7 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, July 21 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, July 29 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Aug. 5 at 8 p.m.
• Friday, Aug. 10 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 18 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 8 at 4 p.m.*
• Sunday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 30 at 4 p.m.
*Prologue (pre-show discussion):Saturday, Sept. 8 from 3 p.m.–3:30 p.m. (included in ticket price)
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
• Adults: $38.50 (lower tier); $25 (upper tier)
• Seniors (65+), Students, Military Veterans, Teachers, AEA Members: $25/$15
• Children (5-15): $10
• Children 4 and under: Free
The outdoor amphitheaters at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum are terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.