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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Faculty Room

Also see Susan's review of Love's Labor's Lost

How can a play about existential loneliness, improper relationships between high school students and their teachers, and religious fanaticism be so boring?

Despite the best efforts of a talented, hard-working cast, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's production of The Faculty Room never catches fire. Bridget Carpenter's satiric drama may have seemed immediate and moving on the page, but in performance the characters make little sense and the plot never engages the interest, although director Howard Shalwitz tries hard.

The setting is the fictional Madison-Feurey High School, somewhere in the rural upper Midwest, in one of those towns where people spend their entire lives because it never occurs to them to leave. (The desperation is bubbling just under the surface; a running joke involves the teachers' daily confiscation of weapons from the students.) The arc of the play follows a few teachers over the course of a school year, from the first week when a new faculty member still has hope, to the spring event where everything falls apart.

Carver Durand (Michael Russotto), the new history teacher, wants to make a good impression with his easy smile and earnestness. Then he runs into cynical Zoe Bartholomew (Megan Anderson), the drama teacher, and bitter Adam Younger (Ethan T. Bowen), who teaches English. Zoe and Adam have a combative relationship: he constantly flirts with her, she responds by putting him down, yet they act as allies against the rest of the school. The only other teacher who seems to use the teachers' lounge is silent, professorial, largely oblivious Bill Dunn (Michael Willis), who teaches ethics.

The main connection between Zoe and Adam is their shared joke or is it? of picking out students to be their "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" for the year. Perhaps they're serious; Zoe behaves like a spurned adolescent when she learns her chosen student is taking a classmate to the prom instead of her. Carver has a dark secret too, which Adam exploits whenever he can, especially if it means prying Carver away from Zoe.

The other undercurrent in this grim world is the students' growing fascination with a series of novels focusing on the aftermath of the Rapture, when the true Christians are gathered into heaven and those who remain on earth have to deal with imminent destruction. (Carpenter notes that she took her inspiration from the best-selling Left Behind series, but that she did not read the novels so her characterizations of them would be her own.)

The main plot seems to follow Adam's shift in perspective, from a self-proclaimed "infidel" who finds the novels poorly written and ridiculous in their theology but a way to get his English students interested in reading, to his desire to believe in something. The problem is that his apparent conversion makes little sense when added to what has come before.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
The Faculty Room
June 5th July 9th
By Bridget Carpenter
Carver Durand: Michael Russotto
Zoe Bartholemew: Megan Anderson
Principal Dennis, Bill Dunn: Michael Willis
Adam Younger: Ethan T. Bowen
Student: Miles Butler
Directed by Howard Shalwitz
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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