And Miles To Go, a new play by Chad Beckim, starts with a bang and then sideswipes your expectations. And it does all this in a refreshing and bracing way.
|Devika Bhise and Randy Danson|
Randy Danson opens the show with an announcement just off the stage. Audiences are prepared for the spiel about cell-phones and candies, but Ms. Danson upends that expectation right away. Ms. Danson’s character, Adele Priam, a schoolteacher at a high school targeted for closure, is addressing the inspection committee. Her contempt is barely veiled at first, and then she gets going.
The lights go down and when they come up next we are in Ms. Priam’s classroom before school. The audience is prepared for an updated “Up the Down Staircase” or “Dangerous Minds”. The scene is laid out as expected; a teacher in a low income, hardscrabble school is thrown in with 3 difficult teenagers and life lessons result.
But And Miles To Go doesn’t take the expected road here, as Partial Comfort Productions rarely do. Instead Randy Dansons’ Ms. Priam is angry and tired and has no patience for the young adults. Deprived of the ability to discipline and stuck with students who have no respect for authority and no desire to learn, they are trapped in a room for the day.
To say more would give away the story and it would be better if you experience it. But Ms. Priam wasn’t always like this. A few of the other teachers and school employees talk to her, this morning of her 40th anniversary. And we are shown the woman and teacher she used to be. The three students (Gabriel Millman, Devika Bhise and Keona Welch) aren’t in this class to be taught or learn life lessons – it is a question why they are there at all. Starting as little more that stereotypes of students, they fill out the roles nicely, playing what they are given.
Ms. Priam’s chief antagonist is the principal, Ms. Winkfield-Porcher - played by Maria-Christina Oliveras. She is a tough woman and the distrust and lack of respect between these two powerhouses in the school is obvious and insurmountable.
Randy Danson carries the role of Ms. Priam excellently. She is not just the tired teacher, but speaks for an entire group of people who don’t know what happened to this generation when they weren’t looking. To the question of "is it her or is it the kids" (every generation questions the ones that follow) the play doesn't give an answer, although it drops plenty of hints on both sides of the argument.
|Gabriel Millman, Devika Bhise, Randy Danson, Brain D. Coats and Keona Welch|
Director Hal Brooks handles the abrupt changes in tone eloquently. It always feels organic and unforced. Throw away bits of information only hint at what was lost. He and playwright Chad Beckim have heeded the advice to edit mercilessly and it pays off in And Miles To Go.
And Miles To Go
Playwright: Chad Beckim
Director: Hal Brooks
Cast: Randy Danson, Andy Prosky, Jeff Wilburn, Stephanie Barry, Tre Davis, Brian Coats, Devika Bhise, Keona Welch, Gabe Millman