There are two amazing things about P.S. 69, the play that opened last night at Walker Space. The first is that Molly DeKowski, an unassertive substitute teacher, is able to survive a tough Brooklyn elementary school with little more than a smile, an eager attitude, and her inhaler. The second is that the school's population of gossipy teachers, disruptive students, and their angry parents are all played by the same actress, Susan Jeremy.
Ms. Jeremy's vocal skills alone are impressive, and she demonstrates a strong ability to mimic voices of people from all walks of life. Each of the teachers at P.S. 69 has a different attitude, and each of the children in her class seem to come from a different neighborhood or country, so Jeremy is required to quickly and repeatedly adapt, a task she takes on with what looks like the greatest of ease.
It is Jeremy's physicality, however, that truly succeeds at filling the stage of this one-woman show with people. With a waggle of her finger, a crane of her neck, or a slight turn of the head, Jeremy instantly changes her age, sex, and even skin color. Though we understand early on this is how the play will work, we don't feel its full effect until we are introduced to the majority of the play's characters (twenty-two in all), and see how they all interact with each other. Half the fun of the play is meeting a new character or recognizing a familiar face before Jeremy even opens her mouth.
Luckily, the other half of the fun is contained solidly in the script, which Jeremy co-wrote with Mary Fulham. Full of humor and a fair amount of insight, P.S. 69 never sags as it traces Molly's story. Whether detailing the terrors of TOC (toxic office carpeting), Molly's struggles to make ends meet, or even her attraction toward her most disruptive student's parent, everything in the play seems to fit. Though the ending of P.S. 69 isn't quite as sharp as the rest of the play, there is never really a moment when the story feels rushed or incomplete, and the jokes - though plentiful - are never made at the expense of the characters. Though the play runs less than an hour, the script is remarkably tight and polished.
The show is briskly staged by Fulham, who always makes the situation and location clear, with a little help from Gregory John Mercurio's simple set (consisting mainly of three chairs and a scrim), straightforward but effective lighting by Christopher Brown, and the occasional use of music and sound, designed by Tim Schellenbaum.
But it is Jeremy who carries the weight of the show, and who doesn't disappoint for a moment. Though Molly is the teacher in the show, it would seem to be much easier to learn from the actress herself. Are you unsure about how one performer might be able to simultaneously teach and learn salsa dancing, represent an entire school board meeting, and demonstrate the teaching of a class where each student comes from a different ethnic background? If so, Jeremy is giving lessons nightly.