by Cate Cammarata · August 21, 2015
Quentin Mare, Stephen Friedrich, Lilli Stein | Darren Cox
There is something disturbing going on inside the hallowed halls of higher education: in an increasingly competitive environment the relationship between professor/student is bartered as a commodity of privilege. In the All Americans’ production of Schooled now playing in the NY International Fringe Festival, writer Lisa Lewis and director James Kautz, explore the tension of an academic system where connections trump talent and everyone has a price.
Claire, played by Lilli Stein, is a film student and a diehard fan of the films written by her professor Andrew, impeccably acted by Quentin Maré. Although obviously talented and possessing an extensive knowledge of film, she is sidelined by her opportunistic wealthy boyfriend (Stephen Friedrich), who is seeking Andrew’s nomination for a grant for his own film. When Claire seeks Andrew’s advice on her script, tension builds as both mentor and mentee seek to use the relationship for their own ends: Claire to win Andrew’s nomination for the coveted and needed grant money, and Andrew to win some feminine attention so sorely lacking in his marriage. The balance of power shifts so quickly from one character to another and back again, it is impossible to tell who is using whom.
Lisa Lewis is familiar with how to tell a good story. The professor tells Claire, “Great characters drive the action like gas in a car.” Lewis has written characters that push the action forward with such clear objectives that Aristotle would be proud: a famous filmmaker professor abandoned in his marriage, a talented female student from an economically deprived home, and a cocky, privileged boyfriend. Her characters ring true to the end and are psychologically fascinating to watch.
Director Kautz , the creator and Artistic Director of the Amoralists Theatre Company, keeps the dramatic action fast and furious, with seamless transitions between scenes that blur into each other almost cinematically with the help of Jeanne Travis’s brilliant choice of music and sound. The set designed by Tyler M. Perry, effectively evokes a bar, dorm room or office. All three actors give concrete, believable performances that ring true. Friedrich is sufficiently creepy as the controlling, jealous boyfriend, but it is the sizzle between Stein and Maré that is especially captivating to watch. The ending, although predictable, is almost disappointing; we want to see these two characters entwine themselves tighter and tighter together to savor the delicious moments between them.
Hopefully this play will have access to a wider audience. Lewis has given us food for thought about our higher educational system; her well-written characters would be perfect not only on the stage, but would live even more comfortably on the big screen.