What we see, what unfolds in front of us, is not what it seems — or is it?
Ixion Theatre Ensemble's new production opens to a dark desolate room where a woman is scattering a fresh circle of chalk dust around a tiny portion of a minuscule stage. We are informed in the program notes that this is some time after the end of the world.
Sara Frank- Hepfer, in dingy dungarees and drooping flannel shirt, is Maggie.
She is quickly joined onstage by Cora, her adult daughter, who arrives breathless and agitated, carrying a bag of what she says is food. Cora is played by Ellie Weise.
Maggie is wary, suggesting that Cora is not Cora, but instead an alien who has invaded her body.
What? Is she crazy? She looks the part, her face a tired and beaten down mask of no emotions. But wait, Cora admits she is an alien in Cora’s body.
So, are we watching yet another updating of the classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers?” Is this really, as program notes suggest, after the end of the world? Or is it rather the world of the mind of Cora?
Maggie is a tough-minded retired teacher who once taught cursive writing to third-graders. Cora, we learn, was a lonely isolated child, alone in her mind in an internal world, someone with a dark-side fertile imagination.
Frank-Hepfer is a seasoned actress with many years of experience under her belt. As Maggie, she is gritty, confrontational and will have nothing to do with this alien version of her daughter, who claims to have eaten all Cora’s ideas, or stolen most of her thoughts.
Weise, as Cora, frenetically stalks the small stage, occasionally morphing into the actual Cora and at other times pretending to be Cora trying to trick Maggie.
Weise and Frank-Hepfer are a matched pair. Maggie and Cora give no quarter to each other as they duel mercilessly throughout most of the play, an alien Cora suggesting she will consume her mother, while Maggie relentlessly calls for the real Cora to emerge.
Resolution comes in a fiery fight scene.
Maggie covers herself with chalk dust, steps out of the circle of her comfort zone and embraces her daughter in the iron grip of a mother who will not lose a child.
What do we take away from a play like this? How about this: We are in a time where interpersonal intimacy and emotional connection between people is being threatened by the continued depersonalization of an uncertain and unpredictable future.
“Chalk” Sept. 15-16 Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. $15 The Robin Theatre 1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing (517) 775 4256 www.ixiontheatre.com