By Joe Zarrow
Directed by Scott Bishop
Produced by Stage Left Theatre & Theatre Seven of Chicago
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Problems of teachers in Chicago Public Schools vividly dramatized.
In a world premiere production in a co-production from Stage Left Theatre and Theatre Seven of Chicago, former CPS English teacher turned actor/playwright Joe Zarrow, Principal Principle dramatized the personalities, problems and probabilities of success of teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. I can relate to Zarrow’s experience since, in the 1970’s I taught at Marshall Upper Grade Center in the West Side of Chicago. According to Zarrow, things seem to much the same as in the 70’s.
We meet Kay Joseph (Cassy Sanders), a corporate escapee bent on changing the world after eight weeks of teacher training. She is white and she ends up at a 95 % African-American high School on Chicago’s South Side. Her idealism and dedication is severely tested by the realities of teaching in a system bogged down with the latest educational theories expressed in jargon and sports metaphors by corporate leader turned principal Ms. Banerjee (Arya Daire).
The English department at the fictional Chinua Achebe High School contains the retiring, after 34 years, Denise Corey (Barbara Roeder Harris) the cynical yet still caring veteran instructor. Ola Lawrence (Elana Elyce) is the friendly, helpful department head and Shelly Woods (McKenzie Chinn) is the zealot, revolutionary innovative English teacher who detests teaching “Huckleberry Finn” despite being mandated to do so by the CPS’s latest curricular change.
Set in the teacher’s lounge, the four teachers deal with a broken copier, a bureaucracy with minimal assets for the teachers and a survival, often cynical, morale of the veteran teachers. This dark comedy focusing on the adjustment of a new teacher conflicted by her determination to helping her students learn with the conflicting system and the advise from her fellow teachers.
The honesty and truthfulness of Zarrow’s play dramatizes the underlying problems that hinder teachers from actually educating their students. While Kay tries hard to understand and relate to her students her dilemma involves following the CPS’ mandates or what actually works for the students as Shelley Woods does in her classes. The pressure from the threat to be “clicked” (instantly fired) by the principal and her personal principles leads her to stress out over the test score from her students. She realizes that test scores are everything, not necessarily what the students have learned.
As evaluations of her teaching skills lead to problems between Kay and Woods, indirect racism rears its ugly head as personal bias invades personal principle. Woods bends her ethics in favor of inflicting her personal curriculum on her students as she advocate that the end justifies the means. Kay’s anger toward Woods spills out in a devastating confrontation.
Principal Principle is a smart, well throughout play filled with credible characters that is sure to evoke conversation about the nature of our public education system. As theatre, Principal Principle is an engaging , often funny, dramatization of the state of contemporary urban education. McKenzie Chinn and Cassy Sanders were particularly effective. This important play is a “must see” theatrical event. Hopefully, the heads of the CPS will see this play.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: April 19, 2014
For more info checkout the Principal Principle page at theatreinchicago.com
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, Il, call 773-975-8150, www.stagelefttheatre.com, tickets $18 – $27, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through May 18, 2014