KPBS AIRDATE: November 30, 1994 >
There’s an overwhelming sense of depressing, institutional green. Beat-up green metal lockers; slime-green wall tiles and a dingy green, black and dirty-white Kentile floor. Add a chalkboard, a fridge, a few weathered chairs, graffiti-marred walls outside, and you’ve got the perfect Teacher’s Lounge, courtesy of the New York City public schools. Of course, I myself only got to see such a thing firsthand by default, as it were. An errand, maybe, a message to deliver. But as a proud product of that inimitable educational system, I can say with confidence that, for the San Diego premiere of “Teacher’s Lounge” at North Coast Repertory Theatre, scenic designer Marty Burnett has gotten it just right.
That’s more than I can say for the playwright. Well, to be fair, John Twomey captures the essence of faculty burnout. Teachers counting the days to intersession — on the first day of classes. Teachers taking roll or doing Delaney-book busy-work for forty minutes, basically doing anything but teaching. That part he’s got down. And the sense of trying, occasionally, to teach those who don’t want to be taught. So far, so good. Twomey has clearly spent time in hallowed high school halls. He knows the scene very well. What he doesn’t know quite as well is how to create characters, not caricatures.
This “Teacher’s Lounge” is a ToonTown of stereotypes…. English teachers only, and not a highly literate bunch. There are two old geezers, wheezing their way to retirement. One is a bitter bigot. The other, a fisherman dying for jury duty or a sabbatical. There’s one hung-over, humorous womanizer, and his female counterpart, a politically liberal sex-pot who dresses up to teach literature… she’s Hester Prynne in one scene, Blanche Dubois in another, the pregnant Virgin Mary in a third. There’s the hyper-persnickety, obsessive-compulsive, by-the-book Mama’s boy. And the jealous, bitchy, ruthless, ladder-climbing, sneering schoolmarm. And, of course, there’s the squeaky-clean, wide-eyed new kid on the block, fresh out of college, looking for help, advice and pedagogical guidance. Fat chance, with this back-biting bunch.
The situations and the laugh-setups are so predictable, I was writing down the punchlines before they were spoken. How they were spoken was also troubling. As a Noo Yawk native, I’d have to say that nobody got the accent quite right. But they were all trying awfully hard, and it got to be pretty intrusive at times. They were also all trying to find multi-dimensionality in their characters, which wasn’t easy. Only the sexy centerpiece was given more than one note to play, and Carmen Beaubeaux found a good rhythm for her. Director Michael Pieper kept everyone else close to or over the top, although both J.D. Meier and Larry Corodemus had believable moments.
The most engaging staging device was the scene-changer, a leather mini-skirted coed who clipped across the set in red spike heels and a low-cut top, sporting a variety of seasonal hats that helped mark the passage of time. Speaking of which, this two hours doesn’t quite go by in a New York minute. But it’s a pleasant enough diversion for the holidays, and could be fun for the family if the kids are high-school age or up. It might give a few new insights to the younger set. But for the rest of us, it’s not exactly the Book of Revelations.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.