IT’S SO LEARNING (Berserker Residents): Will this be on the test?

ItSoLearning

Berserk teacher Bradley Wrenn. Photo by Kate Raines.

In IT’S SO LEARNING, the audience is star of the show. As students, we are entrusted to the care of the Berseker Residents, a group of contradicting teachers with questionable morals and outdated hair.  Name tags, classroom rules, and the requirement to check personal items at the door set the tone for the next 75 minutes.  

The audience enters in single file and is greeted by an ensemble of teachers passing out coupons, too giddy to be sincere. This is the first pop quiz.  Students must collect the appropriate tickets to get a backpack, kid-sized chair, and assigned seat. The catch: this all must be done in 3 minutes. The risk: getting shamed in front of the class.

Soon it becomes evident that everything in this room comes at price.

The audience scurries about, following orders, sharing curious side-glances, and giggling inappropriately – all reminiscent of the first day of school.  Meanwhile, the teachers post up in a box formation, making the students center stage, asking chairs to be turned every time a teacher speaks. Then, almost as a prelude, two quick scenes happen referencing Lord of the Flies: 1) The class is forewarned if they didn’t read the book they’ll be lost. 2) A father incessantly fights with a teacher about the inappropriateness of Lord of Flies on her syllabus; then moments later makes PG-13 love to her.  

It’s absurd. It’s great shock value. It’s an uncomfortable environment full of childhood memories most haven’t pondered in years. Lessons unfold in fragmented vignettes, part-scripted, part-improvised, all creating an authentic rise of emotion, the charm of an interactive audience, while mood is controlled via sound and lighting design by two people clad in shades perched in the corner.

Lord of the Flies is used as a gimmicky device to make broad satirical commentary rarely penetrating deeper than the surface, but what fails as a compelling narrative succeeds as framework for nostalgic improv. Perhaps, this inevitable disappointment in characterization and plot is the very point, as the recurring theme throughout is promised rewards never materialized. By the end of the play, despite the jubilant graduation, the audience realizes they are the butt of the joke.

[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] March 10-18, 2017; fringearts.com

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