Brown’s trio of tepid new plays

Growing pains
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 31, 2012

Theater080212_main
SCHOOL DAZE The cast of Principal Principle.
Brown/Trinity Playwrights Rep's annual trio of new plays has been on the boards at Leeds Theatre since July 11, presenting the sometimes humorous, sometimes harrowing dramatics of overworked high school teachers, overwrought old friends at a class reunion, and a fractious family gathering unexpectedly. You can catch all three on August 4.

PRINCIPAL PRINCIPLE | AUG 3, 8 PM + AUG 4, 1 PM

High school life might be pretty dreadful from the students' perspective, but it can be awful for the teachers as well. At least that's what Joe Zarrow is presenting in Principal Principle, the creative spillage of his experiences teaching English and drama in Chicago public schools. Directed by Heidi Handelsman and performed by five actors who seem born into their characters, it focuses on a young new teacher who is very much a student herself.

Kay Josephs (Caroline Kaplan) is freshly out of grad school after changing careers from socially unworthy banking. Her colleagues span the gamut. Denise (Connie Crawford), a veteran of 33 years at Chinua Achebe Academy, is looking forward to retiring at the end of the year ("I'm going to watch Ellen every day"). Laura (Mary C. Davis) is kindly and supportive. Shelley (Liz Morgan), African-American, despises teaching Huckleberry Finn, so she teaches black female writers instead. The by-the-book principal is Ms. Wei (Michelle Ilutsik Snyder), obsessed about sticking to the official exam regime. Kay's innocence is challenged, as are her values, as the actions of one of her fellow teachers puts her to one of the most consequential tests of her life.

REUNION | AUG 2, 8 PM + AUG 4, 4 PM

Reunion is a case study in how difficult it is to write a convincing play and how brave is to try. Written by Gregory S. Moss, directed by Kenneth Prestininzi, and performed ably enough by a cast of three, the story seems a simple one to tell. A trio of high school friends are meeting at a class reunion, and two acts should be plenty of time to get to know them well, and care.

We first meet Peter (Alston Brown), the proud father of twins and a recent baby, whose wife frequently calls, interrupting conversations. He and Max (Steven Jaehnert) wax nostalgic about the good old days, but Max is a recovering alcoholic and evidently more subdued than back then. They are waiting for Mitchell (Daniel Duque-Estrada), who eventually explodes onto the scene, a real wild man. That's when the characterizing and narrative troubles begin. Mitchell is angry and aggressive, implausibly so for a friend. And he gets worse — by the end of the play he is downright vicious, with Peter supposedly patient at Mitchell describing Peter's wife as a slut, in carnal detail, and with Max having as little reason for being patient with him. Tensions dissipate, motivations scatter, and promised storytelling payoffs leave us with torn-up IOUs.

TIMESHARE | AUG 4, 8 PM

As soon as Jerry Kirschenstein (Mark Cohen) finishes a phone call and says he's removing his hearing aids, as with Chekhov's gun on a mantelpiece which must eventually be fired, we know that noisy escapades will follow to which he will be comically oblivious. In Timeshare, by Rachel Caris Love and directed by Lowry Marshall, just about every interpersonal family conflict that can happen will happen.

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