Mandy Kramer, Jeff Mangum, & Jeremy O’Brien in The Faculty Room.
Photo courtesy of Wayward Actors Company.
The Faculty Room
By Bridget Carpenter
Directed by Kevin Butler
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In his director’s notes, Kevin Butler declares, “This show is not a comedy”, and, despite it being labeled as such, he has a point. It is a comedy, but the humor is particularly uneasy. The Faculty Room is the kind of play that you laugh at because you are often uncertain about its intentions. It makes you worry. After premiering as a part of the 2003 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre, it returns to Louisville in this all-too-brief one weekend run from Wayward Actors Comnpany.
All of the action takes place in the room of the title, a sparsely appointed teacher’s lounge at Madison Fury High School that appears to only be frequented by four instructors: brash and acerbic Adam Younger (Jeremy O’Brien), dour and hardened Zoe Bartholomew (Mandy Kramer), earnest newcomer Carver Durand (Jeff Mangum), and silent, beleaguered Bill Dunn (Greg Collier). The location of the school is never specified, but it feels like a modest, middle-American town.
The early scenes are dominated by whip-smart repartee between Adam and Zoe filled with enough inside jokes to point to important history between the two. Eventually Carver emerges from his shell to enlarge the dynamic so the story can begin. As we come to understand that one of the inside jokes is choosing a paramour from among the student body each year, the depths of the play’s dark themes come into focus.
What playwright Carpenter has on her mind is to illustrate the adult characters’ complicity in a violent youth culture. The childish behavior of the teachers leads to Zoe dressing like a student, sporting a Wu Tang Clan t-shirt, while Adam takes to drink and smoking weed in the faculty lounge. Carpenter also makes allusions to larger forces that might surpass conventional wisdom and foster aberrant, violent psychology: religion and a fascination with apocalyptic fantasy. It’s a premise that is provocative, albeit a tad too facile in its implications, but the play is tightly constructed and the dialogue is sharp.
The players are good, although there is an overall struggle to fully realize the more subtle aspects of the text. Jeremy O’ Brien’s inflamed near-sociopath with a touch of weariness and Mandy Kramer’s deeply cynical gaze make for solid chemistry, and Jeff Mangum is well cast as the passive but tortured Carver, using his naturally low-key tendency to underplay to good effect. Greg Collier plays Bill as a walking trauma victim, his face frozen into a mask of silent agony as he shuffles in and out with no dialogue; an indelible physical characterization. John Moll provides the voice of the unseen Principal Dunn, and Adam Ellis has a brief turn as one of the students.
Director Kevin Butler sets a good pace, and mostly works the material for its intended effect. All the choices seem on the right track, but the play still is not all it could be. The set design is appropriately dull – at one point a character describes the room as “really ugly”, keeping the focus on the cast and the character dynamic, but it also expresses a certain reticence in Butler’s take. I like The Faculty Room, and this is a worthwhile production. My desire for it to rise to greater heights owes much to the fact that it is a play that speaks to the origins of a culture inured to violence and casual extremity, posing tough questions without pandering but offering no easy answers. Theatre that fits that description is always welcome.
The Faculty Room
July 28 @ 7:30pm
July 29 @ 7:30pm
July 30 @ 7:30pm
July 31 @ 5:00pm
Tickets for all performances are $18
Wayward Actors Company
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.