by Everett Goldner · October 24, 2014
The official synopsis for L.A. Unified at the United Solo Festival reads:
“Substitute teaching becomes a war zone for an actor who, seeking an easy and quick financial fix, expects to just ‘babysit for six hours.’ While simultaneously grappling with his sick father and a failing marriage, he develops a stronger bond with his students, which leads to greater meaning and purpose in his life.”
But nothing in the content nor the style of David Newer’s show indicates that he seeks the aforementioned meaning or purpose, or intends to do anything more than babysit himself and his audience. In an hour-long presentation that amounts to a prolonged rant, Newer rehashes the time he spent subbing for inner-city kids in Los Angeles, twenty years ago, his machismo and disgruntled attitude suggesting that he’s endlessly auditioning for one of the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross. If you’re expecting some sort of climactic expression of teacher-student unity, look elsewhere. L.A. Unified is the name of the school district. Period. One does feel a disconnect from a show when even the title is expressly meaningless.
It seems to have largely been a miserable period of his life, and when I left the theater I was none the wiser why Newer wants to bring it up at all. He relies on manic acting, on switcheroo, blink-and-they’re-gone characterizations of some of the kids, heaping one atop the next like pancakes, which nonetheless might be funny if Newer were not so unremittingly aggravated with all of them. The failing marriage is brought up and disposed with inside five minutes, never to be mentioned again. The only character we meet aside from the stock kids, a stock aggravated dispatcher and Newer himself is the dying father. We’re meant to care about this relationship, but like the kids, the characterization of this man never leaves the realm of disposable stereotype. When dad’s finally gone it’s straight back to the (other) aggravation. When there are moments of genuine feeling in the classroom – by my count there was exactly one – Newer declines to show us the kids anymore, instead explaining to us in monologue exactly what he felt and exactly what it meant, with a kind of “you know where you can shove this job!” indignation that’s too clichéd to be insulting to anyone. I paid close attention for fifty-five of the sixty minutes, but my mind admittedly began to wander the dozenth time I felt that Newer was actually yelling at me personally, as if I’d picked my nose in the classroom.