Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Rubber Room

All around this is a perfect idea.  Write a play about teachers who are suspended from classroom instruction for some infraction and placed in a holding room indefinitely until their cases are adjudicated.  Seems like the makings of a great work of fiction - ripe with conflict and drama.   Only problem is - this is a true story.  Well, not the stories themselves (as far as I know), rather the concept itself.  New York City, from the 1960's until Mayor Bloomberg closed them in 2008, maintained these rooms - almost immediately coined "rubber rooms" for just this purpose.

Now here's where it gets good - - Take 5 different directors  - each of whom gets to rehearse a cast of 5 actors for the show  - and don't let them or their casts collaborate.  Next, call one member of each cast to the theatre each night to perform his or her part.  The result is a fresh, tense, and realistic experience of these characters meeting for the first time in the rubber room each night.  You get 25 different casts all performing the same show.  I'm sold!

So while I only saw 1 out of those potential 25 casts - I have to say the overall show is a power-packed drama.  In short order you get to meet the 5 characters and find out that there just may be 2 sides to every story and accusation.  Are teachers to blame for everything wrong in the classroom?  Where are the parents?  What happened to respect, discipline, and order in the classroom?  Who is really running the schools?

I can't say that each night is going to be a grand-slam, but the one I attended was excellent.  Discussing the performance we both witnessed and the overall state of the education system in NYC afterwards with my friend over a burger, we both realized how each director might play the same character differently and how the stories of each of the characters might totally change left us wanting to see the show again!  While this concept may not work for every show (I doubt you will see this anytime soon in commercial theatre) it certainly felt like it worked with this subject matter.  Anytime someone wants to go back and see a show - that seems like a good thing to me.  And I'm the one with the "no repeats" rule too!