by Sean Cook
Littletramp Theatre
Roundhouse Community Centre
April 26-May 3

All the advertising and promotion around SCHOOL Inc. presents the show as an exposé of creeping corporate commercialism in our schools. Playwright Sean Cook, an English teacher at Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary, has been publicly addressing the issue for some time. Last year he blew the whistle on the disturbing details of UBC’s multi-million dollar deal with Coke. Here he ostensibly tells the story of a public school district that sells its soul in a deal with “Cash Cola” that will help pay for its sports programs in a time of government cutbacks.

But SCHOOL Inc. is only secondarily about the schools’ collaboration with corporations eager to market unhealthy products to impressionable teenage consumers--a story that surely needs telling. Instead, it focuses on beleaguered English teacher Jim Freeman, who heroically dares stand up to the corrupt system which tries to destroy him. But he won’t be silenced. The Truth will make us free, man. Jim actually thinks of himself as the guy standing in front of the tanks in Tienaman Square. And at least one intelligent, rebellious student will appreciate his efforts.

In the process of canonizing his flawed saint of a tragic hero, Cook loses sight of the corporate critique, saving most of it for a two-minute rant at the 90-minute mark, powerful but as subtle as a sledgehammer.

Meantime, we meander through a half-dozen subplots: the break-up of Jim’s marriage, his mentoring relationship with a female student which his enemies use to accuse him of sexual misconduct, the basketball coach’s revenge against Jim for failing his star player, a student fashion show, and the principal’s wife’s battle with cancer.

Dramatically, the most effective plotline involves the dumb, sexist, bullying basketball star (nicely played by Tom O’Brien, who doubles as the Superintendent of Schools, who would twirl his nasty moustache if he had one) and the rebellious Goth girl (an excellent Robin Mooney) who stands up to him in the only moments of the play when I wanted to cheer.

Most of the acting is decent and much of it is very good. David Purvis does solid work as Jim, especially in the classroom scenes where he tries to make his resistant students understand how advertising manipulates them. Chantal Ethier is convincing as the smart girl and Jeffrey Fisher makes the caricatured PE teacher three-dimensional.

But director Jack Paterson’s decision to have the actors mime their props and actions is disastrous. It results in clichés (Superintendent and Principal “golfing” while discussing corporate sponsorships) and distractions (Jim’s wife “putting away the dishes” while they argue), and often makes the show look like bad high school drama.

The over-explicit writing doesn’t help. “When a teacher speaks the truth, you silence him. What does that teach our students? Well, I’ll tell you what it teaches them…” An English teacher should know that a rhetorical question doesn’t need answering.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Friday, April 29, 2005 5:09 PM
website design by Linda Fenton Malloy