Lesson Learned? Teach, Teacher, Teachest

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NY Theater Review by JK Clarke

 

Any nationalized education program is a platform for social indoctrination. From a patriotic pledge to specifically chosen literary texts to emphases on certain disciplines (like, say, math and science) which are meant to drive young citizens toward ​specific beliefs and behaviors. In some cases the intent is benevolent; ​at​ others manipulative and fascistic. The latest production from One Eighth Theater (in residence at INTAR Theatre), Teach, Teacher, Teachest (based on Eugène Ionesco’s 1951 Absurdist play, La Leçon)—a piece about a mad professor tutoring a naïve, young student and ultimately murdering her—explores the exploitive potential of education. This update (by David Koteles) is largely contextual, providing contemporary references and settings.

 

One Eighth Theater’s recent productions have focused on both the absurd and on subject matter deliberately left open to interpretation and debate. Teach, Teacher, Teachest has a lot in common with last year’s Ubu (based on Jarry’s Ubu Roi) in both style and content. Director and performer (as the Professor) Daniel Irizzary makes the most of his manic energy once again, spewing his rat-a-tat-tat dialog as if to challenge the audience to keep pace with him. There is a good deal of information layered in his words and actions and it’s a good thing the play’s run time is a mere 70 minutes, for his pace is exhausting. Like Ubu, The Professor is a megalomaniac with countless other mental disorders. From the moment his young Student (Laura Butler Rivera) arrives, seeking to fulfill a course requirement, he browbeats her, haranguing, harassing, and being overly pedantic about points that are seemingly incongruous: “Conjugation! Repeat after me, Jane. I buy, you buy, Fannie Mae OWNS.” The Professor’s lessons are not only stylistically absurd, but politically loaded. He extols the virtues, too, of Haliburton, major fast food chains (as a component of free market capitalism), and Monsanto (for it’s value in helping us understand exactly what’s in our food). It’s social commentary in the guise of jingoism, à la Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”

 

While the Professor insists the Student embrace lessons and rules that are clearly meant to express actual societal groupthink (Lady Gaga is beautiful because she is a popular celebrity; Sarah Jessica Parker is a slut because she has a mole), is he also instructing her in the ways of absurdity and anarchy? His preference for anarchy and subversiveness, then, may be what allows him to murder her guiltlessly and with impunity. Could the lesson here be that rules exist for a reason, yet they are too frequently over-exerted? Who knows? One must really figure it out for one’s self. Perhaps that is the lesson.

 

Teach, Teacher, Teachest benefits from terrific acting (rounded out by Michael Leonard as the remarkably disaffected and enabling Maid) both physical and verbal. All three engage in complicated acrobatics on the minimalist room-frame set (Susan Zeeman Rogers) which mirror the absurdity of their speech. But the play lacks the depth and dynamism found in Ubu. That’s not to say there’s no value —on the contrary, it is interesting and informative. But comparatively, it pales. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a company embracing such an extremely alternat​ive​, yet important, school of theater. They should not be dissuaded.

*Photos: Matthew Dunivan

Teach, Teacher, Teachest. Through October 5 at INTAR Theatre (500 West 52nd Street, at 10th Avenue, 4th Floor). www.intartheatre.org

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