Review: Theater teachers are under fire in "Preparation"

Theater people and academics share two traits: they are convinced of the moral importance of their vocation to the world, which can prov...


Theater people and academics share two traits: they are convinced of the moral importance of their vocation to the world, which can provide a feeling of superiority, but they also often feel misunderstood and under siege, which makes them overwhelming. the defensive. As members of a university’s drama department, the characters in Hillary Millerthe new comedy ” Preperation “ – brought forward by Bushwick Starr and HERE – belong to both constituencies, meaning their shoulders sag under rock-sized chips.

This mistrust is justified, however, as their department is under attack by university leaders, who want to not only cut their budget, but eliminate the program altogether.

Figurative and literal survival become entangled when an irrepressibly cheerful HR rep, Kath (Alison Cimmet), shows up in the department’s seedy – and decidedly not fancy – boardroom-slash-break. If teachers receive state-mandated training on how to handle a possible mass shooting, they will have a better chance of surviving both a shooter and the Dean’s Suppression button.

An assistant professor in the English department at Queens College and author of books on theater, Miller is well versed in the quirks and jargon of academia, as well as interdepartmental rivalries. She also nails the bureaucracies’ love of acronyms, unfolded here in a dizzying alphabet soup that includes MeRP (Mutual Respect Pledge), ACOST (Active Campus Operations Shooter Training) and GOHOHOF (Get Out, Hide Out, Help Out. , Fight), as well as references to “FERPP requests” and “FULAP forms”.

Miller and director Kristjan Thor carefully sketch out some types that are found in just about every educator group. Most memorable are the besieged president, Jeff (Lou Liberatore), doing his best to save his department, and Laurette (the wonderful Nora Cole, master of the haughty eye), a great lady inclined to statement shawls and imbued with the authority which comes from the charism, the experience and the noble ideals of his vocation. “We are theater artists,” she says. “We create sacred spaces to live! “

Equally familiar is the nervous and humorless Haydée García-Shelton (Tracy Hazas), who seems to have a hard time mingling with her colleagues – she casually informs them that she got married this weekend, as if this was okay – and shows contempt for musicals and their fans. “If you ask these people about my job, they’ll pretend they care, and then they’ll start pushing their GoFundMe for bouffant wigs again,” she says. We can guess who will end up using pepper spray.

Getting this motley group to agree on anything, especially an administrative injunction seen as an imposition, is akin to herding cats – real ones, unlike Cat Blanchett, the new robotic ‘resilience mascot’ of the department, a gesture intended to help improve morale.

Ultimately, however, Miller cannot solve a central problem: the refusal of some professors to take training is baffling. HR resistance is easy to understand, but a quick training session that both covers a very real concern – mass school shootings – and saves your funding feels like a giveaway. And yet they bicker.

Having painted herself in a corner, Miller cannot figure out how to end the play. She therefore gives Laurette, who is retiring, the last word in the form of an address to her students. It’s a good speech, and a dodge.

Preperation
Until December 11 at HERE Arts Center, Manhattan; thebushwickstarr.org. Duration: 1h30.

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