Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: The Things We Do To Get Ahead

We claim that we "won't go there" to get ahead but most of us haven't actually been in that position. In a world where knowing and doing the right people is more important than talent comes Lisa Lewis's biting dark comedy Schooled. Andrew, a professor at a snooty rich kid's university teaches a film class to the next generation film maker, all vying for a prestigious and life changing grant. When Claire seeks help on her screenplay, Andrew and Claire develop a relationship that leads to something some would call taboo. Schooled shows the games and personas artists are forced to play in order to be seen and heard. It's an incredibly poignant story. But it's naturally a 21st century derivative to Mamet's Oleanna. The characters that Lewis develops are clear and determined. They each have a strong objective and will do what it takes to get it. Whether it be love or a grant or recognition, this trio needs each other to strive. The subtleties Lewis drops into the script are clever. From the parallels of Andrew representing Claire's father to jabs at the business and the form, the storytelling is natural. The only problem the script runs into is the three false endings. And interestingly enough, the three places it could end offer a different narrative. Currently, Schooled gives redemption to Claire and neatly tied up loose ends. Somehow it feels too clean for this gritty story. It's possible that the strongest ending is leaving Andrew alone at the bar and allowing ambiguity to shine.
photo by Andrea Reese
Schooled is a success due the top-notch cast. Quentin Mare embodied that suave inspirer with the ulterior motive. Mare brings great strength to Andrew, a man who puts on a mask to hide the despair. Lilli Stein as Claire is filled with hope. She somehow manages to go toe to toe with Andrew without faltering. The only thing that stuck out was her cadence and diction. Whether it was actor or character, the slightly strung together tone made some dialogue lost. As Jake, Stephen Friedrich portrayed that pompous privileged brat who throws a temper tantrum of destruction when he doesn't get what he wants. It's easy to hate the actions of Jake, but Friedrich found a way to sway you to Jake's side at times.
Director James Kautz was blessed with three strong actors and a script with depth. And yet Kautz delivered even more. His staging was defined and consistent. He guided the actors to create authentic characters. And flourished with a simple yet effective design. Kautz made good use of space, triangulating the stage with Tyler M. Perry’s set. While the actors had no choice but to bleed over into worlds, keeping everything present kept the pace moving. The costume design by Christopher Metzger was on point. The attire evoked the artsy fartsy faux hipsters, thick-rimmed glasses included for all. The lighting by Evan Roby was quite extensive for a Fringe show. And it was of great aid to the production. Again, using the triangulation of the set, having three practicals present and lit at all times allowed for an intriguing transition look.
Schooled is a strong story. It’s a story that is relatable to artists and audience alike. Lisa Lewis has a way with words and knack for imagining a good story. Expect to see more of this one.