Review by Sonia Roberts
Set at a prestigious university in New York City, Lisa Lewis’s Schooled takes us into the world of competitive undergraduate screenwriters entangled in an awkward, competitive, and mostly creepy lust triangle. Claire (Lilli Stein), a hard-working senior from Atlantic City with boozy, gambling parents – her father having passed years ago from the aforementioned vices – is vying for a sizable grant to put her screenplay into production. Her biggest threat is, unfortunately, her boyfriend, the wealthy and pretentious Jake (Stephen Friedrich) – who, unlike Claire, whose mother got her a fake I.D. to start cocktail waitressing at a casino at 15, has never worked a day in his life but really wants this grant for the fancy accolade cred.
In the middle of it all? Their screenwriting professor Andrew (Quentin Maré), who made a good movie a really long time ago but lately has alternated between teaching, writing mediocre horror flicks, and going through a mid-life crisis. In an attempt to win him over for his nomination, Claire visits him at office hours, and soon enough they have a date at the White Horse Tavern, where he spends most of his time drinking beer after beer and crumpling empty sheets of paper. Claire strives to shrug off Andrew’s many attempts to hit on her and that’s where things get complicated. As she begins to spend more and more time writing with Andrew in the bar, she chooses to flirt back but never let things cross the line, until, of course, they do. And where’s Jake this whole time? He’s predictably jealous, reading Claire’s script behind her back and visiting Andrew himself to try to swing the vote.
For a play that so often references the extremely truthful, current disparities in the arts – notably, the boundless opportunities that artists with trust funds have compared to those who have to work thrice as hard, and how being a woman carries its own plague of trivialization and harassment – it fails to truly explore these inequalities. The feminism is downright murky, as Claire knowingly eggs on Andrew for her own benefit, and it’s hard to believe a character with as much spunk and intellect as Lewis paints her with, would sell herself like that. The chemistry between Claire and Jake is non-existent and implausible for the same reason, mainly, how can a badass chick like her end up tangled in a lust triangle with two total d-bags? The only time we feel like Claire and Jake could believably be into each other is when he aggressively initiates sex with her and asks, “What does Andy say when he’s being rough?” And Claire responds, “He says, ‘do it the way I tell you.’”
Ultimately, Schooled is 90-minutes of consecutive two-person scenes that are always a little too long and a lot too stationary. James Kautz’s staging doesn’t help the pacing, confining the actors to smaller playing areas by keeping all three physical worlds always visible – Andrew’s office, the bar, Claire’s bedroom. Evan Roby’s lighting design doesn’t delineate the spaces according to specific worlds and often faces are in the shadows, and sound is inconsistent, a mix of effective, upbeat transitions and oddly sappy music that doesn’t serve the play. Quentin Maré brings an impressive multi-dimensionality to Andrew, letting his insecurities and vulnerability shine through the otherwise egotistical, selfish man-child, but with low stakes and mostly unsympathetic characters, his strong performance isn’t enough to keep us hooked.
New York International Fringe Festival at The Robert Moss Theater @ 440 Studios
For more information, visit SchooledThePlay.com