Truth and Wit in Principal Principle
For the last eight years, the Brown/Trinity Playwrights Repertory Theatre has invited Brown University alumni playwrights as well as other established dramatists to gather at the university for six weeks of creative production. At the end of the session, the promising young playwrights share their new work with a live audience, something we’re lucky enough to catch for about the price of a movie ticket.
Several plays developed at the Playwrights Rep — including boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb — have gone on and flourished on the national stage, and Principal Principle, the first of three new plays to hit the Leeds Theatre this summer, will undoubtedly do the same.
Principal Principle spawned from playwright Joe Zarrow’s experience as a teacher in Chicago public schools. The story follows four English teachers trying to hang onto their jobs while keeping up with administrative standards and maintaining academic integrity.
At the center is Kay Josephs, a first-year teacher played by Caroline Kaplan, who we last saw onstage in Trinity Rep’s The Merchant of Venice. Kaplan is doe-eyed and wonderful, exhibiting a range of emotions from shock to gaiety to (quite reasonable) distress, sometimes within moments of each other.
Liz Morgan plays Shelley Woods, a fiery, confident teacher who has earned the respect of her colleagues and her students. Morgan offers up just the right amount of sass for her character’s “stick it to the Man” mentality, but at the same time was able to convince the audience that she deeply understands the needs of her students.
A well-rounded academic department ceases to exist without the token curmudgeon of a teacher who can’t take her eye off retirement and her pension payout. Connie Crawford plays this role brilliantly through her character, Denise Corey, who, between mouthfuls of string cheese, rambles off excuse after excuse as to why she can’t engage her students.
Perhaps the most surprising performance of the night came from Mary C. Davis, who worked with Kaplan on The Merchant of Venice. Her character, Laura Kohlberg, gave the perfect dose of passive aggression and guidance as the English department head. Her timing was brilliant; while Kaplan’s wide-eyed expressions got lots of laughs, Kohlberg’s deliberate delivery of her lines, in strings of curse words or slightly condescending tips on local gang symbols, left the audience in fits.
Michelle Ilutsik Snyder’s performance as Principal Wei is also noteworthy. Wei is totalitarian and manipulative, and Snyder does a remarkable job at making the audience despise her.
Principal Principle is consistently funny and wildly ambitious, but also leaves room for serious debate on the differences between right and wrong as well as on the state of public education in the country.
Principal Principle is onstage through July 14 at Brown University’s Leeds Theatre, 77 Waterman St., Providence. It will return in repertory on Aug. 3. Following Principal Principle is Greg Moss’s Reunion, which will run from July 18–21, and again on Aug. 2. Rounding out this summer’s Playwrights Rep is Rachel Caris Love’s Timeshare, which will take over the stage from July 25–28 and Aug. 1. Then on Aug. 4, all three plays will be served up in one afternoon. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 seniors and $5 students. Call 863-2838 or visit brown.edu/btprep for more information.