Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The set up is pretty straightforward. Along the back wall of the stark set is a row of posters. With one single exception, each poster has a student's first name handwritten in black marker. Using simple (dare I say, childlike?) instrumentation including a ukulele, a toy piano, and an electric keyboard, Cramer sings about their experience tutoring each of the students listed on the wall, often voicing the role of both frustrated tutor and snarky middle or high school student. What makes School Pictures so special is the grace with which Cramer captures the essence of being a young person trying to navigate a high-pressure scholastic environment. The insights they make into the thirteen-year-old mind are staggering, very funny, and–at least for me–utterly relatable.
I expect many people from a wide variety of backgrounds will find the experience of Cramer and their students similarly relatable, but it is a potential weakness for the show that the type of academic and social environments depicted are extremely limited. Not every family has the means to hire a private academic tutor, and not all parents are academically inclined. Cramer tackles this issue head on and acknowledges that the students depicted in School Pictures are a truly elite group. I do not want to give anything away about one of my favorite segments in the production, but suffice it to say that Cramer turns this potential liability into an advantage with a monologue so staggering I still cannot get it out of my mind.
Cramer is charming from start to finish, their songs are very hilarious, and the struggles of the young people depicted on stage are beautifully heartbreaking. It is absolutely worth your time and money to see this production. I hope it is the first of many for this lovely new work.
School Pictures runs through November 20, 2022, at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. Tickets are are $25-$59. For tickets and information, please visit wilmatheater.org, call the box office at 215-546-7824, or visit the box office.
Milo Cramer (writer/performer, they/them)