The Shop at Fort Fringe
Remaining performances: July 25 at 9 p.m.; July 26 at 4:45 p.m.
They say: Frank Fletcher has a tough job as a DC public school teacher. He also thinks he’s a superhero. When another teacher uncovers his secret identity, Fletcher weighs whether his alter ego is a force for good or a dangerous delusion.
Annie’s take: It is tough to come up with more frustrating realities than the state of public education in American inner cities. One such reality, however, might be a poor attempt at satire of this problem. Set in a middle school that struggles to make Annual Yearly Progress, Angry Young Theater Companys Skywriter posits that it takes a superhero to uplift the minds of the degenerate urban youth whom the school is struggling to serve. While the plays resolution congratulates the hard-working and inspirational teacher (as well as an earnest principal with a letter of resignation stewing in a desk drawer), its trite portrayal of how one class-skipping, bad-mouthing pest can achieve academic transformation at the hands of an English teacher wearing superhero spandex under his tweed blazer comes off as mildly offensive.
To boil down the plot: Elizabeth Finch (Genevieve James), a perky, young, white teachers aide, is assigned to assist Frank Fletcher (Christopher Michael Todd), an English teacher who can both quote Henry V in its entirety and stand up to the most terrifying of his students, Lorena Cooper (Lynn Bandoria). Additionally, he has some unclear ability to rewrite bad things that are being written throughout D.C. and thus to avert bad things from happening. Turns out Finch cannot take full credit for this power: the Grim Reaper (Ricardo Frederick Evans, who also plays Principal Cooper), in the form of a D.C. metro train, has endowed him with it.
Thus unravels a myriad of confusing scenes, which skip to and fro in time and feature the four actors in different roles in a way that renders the story inconsistent. James, as both the peppy teachers aide and a peppy nurse at G. W. hospital, is a one-track actress: as Finch, she delivers a ranting monologue or two with comedic panache. However, throughout the rest of the show her bag of tricks is limited to a sarcastic sideways glance and a nervous tucking of hair behind her ears.
Aside from the shortfalls of its premise, plot structure and mostly passable acting, Skywriter contains moments where the satire actually works, in that the plays treatment of its subjects flaws comes off as so ridiculous that one cannot help but laugh—-when Fletcher asks Lorena to come up with a proposal for how to fix the school, she comes up with an apt racial joke that sent the audience into hysterics.
If the plot were more cohesive and the stock characters not so overdetermined, the production would give due justice to these moments of comedic success. At the end of the school day, however, it would require more than a superhero to make Skywriter a play worth seeing.
See it if: You have never stepped inside an inner city public school classroom and thus are content to allow yourself to be led through a shoddy parody of one.
Skip it if: You have.