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A Public Education

a Comedy/Drama
by Jeff Talbott

COMPANY : Out of Box Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Artisan Resource Center
ID# 5506

SHOWING : May 10, 2019 - May 19, 2019



Luke Paxton is a high school math teacher and the new guy in the faculty room. He’s ready to teach, but completely unprepared for the other teachers; not to mention the nasty things somebody’s been posting on the web. Based on interviews with dozens of teachers working today, "A Public Education" puts you right into the trenches with five complicated, deeply human teachers and one troubled student. Welcome to high school, where an education comes in ways you can never see coming.

Director Zip Rampy
Ms. Pam Finley Amanda Cucher
Mr. Luke Paxton Shaun MacLean
Mr. Doug McGowen Bob Smith
Dr. Barbara Mills Mia Kirsten Smith
Ms. Abby Donaldson Bryn Striepe
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An A for the Teachers
by playgoer
Monday, May 20, 2019
Is Out of Box’s "Public Education" a perfect production? Perhaps not. Some of Bradley Rudy’s area lighting is too broad or too narrow for the action taking place. The plot revolves around the mystery of who is posting caustic reviews of the teachers at a public high school to an anonymous website, and the mystery is never resolved. But the excellence of every other bit of the production is overwhelming.

No set designer is credited, so director Zip Rampy must have decided to go with bare walls painted black. Furnishings are a conference table and coffee station stage right, a desk stage left, and a bench on the low platform up center. Six chairs provide other seating. Since the script calls for a variety of locations, the simple scenic set-up works remarkably well. Entrances and exits are made either through an opening up right or through the exit door at audience right.

Zip Rampy’s sound design uses environmental sounds at selected points, most notably at the start and end of the show and when a taciturn student (Zach Kuebler) is playing games on his tablet. It’s very effective. Costumes and props (many edible) add some visual interest to the production. Kristin Storla’s intimacy choreography highlights the most physically dramatic moments.

It’s the acting that makes the show, though. Besides the student, who mostly makes silent appearances while acting sullen and aloof, we have four teachers and a vice principal. There’s the new math teacher (Shaun Maclean), who tries to connect with the kids, and in the process alienates the other, more cynical teachers. There’s Pam (Amanda Cucher), whose hair-trigger temper and foul mouth go hand-in-hand (or foot-in-mouth, as the case may be). There’s Doug (Bob Smith), who is slower to anger, but explodes when he reaches his breaking point. And there’s the young, sympathetic English teacher (Bryn Striepe) who offers to lend a friendly shoulder (and other body parts). Vice Principal Dr. Mills (Mia Kristin Smith) tries to keep this dysfunctional group under control as they react to negative website posts and target the student as a suspect in posting them.

Zip Rampy has directed the show with quiet moments at the start and finish, and with emotional fireworks in-between. There’s lots of overlapping dialogue and half-finished sentences in Jeff Talbott’s script, mimicking real-life speech. Everyone is wonderful. Mr. Maclean has a lean and distant-yet-friendly demeanor that is perfect for his role, and Ms. Cucher ping-pongs from livid to conciliatory and back again from scene to scene in a breathtakingly effective manner. Mr. Smith lets an understated cynicism burst into physical action in a viscerally exciting way, and Ms. Striepe, always excellent, is as charismatic here as she has ever been. Ms. Smith and Mr. Kuebler make use of tightly controlled performances that contrast wonderfully with the rare moments when they let it all out. Actors don’t create performances and relationships like these all on their own, so Mr. Rampy deserves boatloads of accolades and kudos for casting them, guiding them, and letting them shine.

The plot is not as strong as the performances that support it. There’s no true resolution to any situation, just truces and laboriously considered inaction. This is more a slice-of-life insight into the life of a new teacher and the political and emotional battlegrounds present in a public high school. But it’s not the plot you’ll remember; it’s the magnificent ensemble of performances that will stick in your mind. This is the most satisfying production I’ve seen in a while. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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