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‘Teachers’ Lounge’ offers slice of high school reality

By Anita Raymon

The characters come across as genuine and, even when they complain (which they do incessantly) their humanity comes through to the audience.

The set is a typically drab teachers' lounge with nondescript furniture, a coffee pot which rarely worked, and a large calendar which was of great interest, since it showed all the school holidays.

But the lounge at the fictitious Amsterdam High School is an oasis in the desert of teaching unruly, disinterested, screaming teenagers (whom we never see or hear, but we become familiar with them through the teachers' conversations).

The play centers on the reaction of the veteran teachers to a newcomer, Wallace Johnson, whom they mistake for a senior on his first day on the job and order to leave their lounge.

Johnson is played by Ted Frank, newly out of Northwestern University. He looks the part, and nicely conveys that he doesn't quite know what he's doing in New York City, let alone at Amsterdam High.

Johnson wants and needs the guidance of the senior staff, but when they tell him, things like, "Get out of here and run for your life" or "Park your car 10 blocks from the school so it won't be vandalized," it can be discouraging.

Peter Bohlman plays Stan Cohen, a longtime Amsterdam High teacher. He's always marking the school holidays on the calendar on the wall, almost like a prisoner crossing off the days of his sentence. He dreams of going into the bar business with his wife in Florida.

Cohen is burnt out from the struggles with the students, and he dreams of his retirement. In the lounge, he says he has been called to jury duty and hopes to get a juicy murder trial that would take weeks. He returns, rejected by the defense lawyer because he seemed too eager to be on the jury.

Cohen fully expects many of his students to be in the courtroom on criminal charges in the near future.

Nora O'Reilly has taught English literature at Amsterdam for over 12 years. She is brilliantly characterized by theater newcomer Ilona Weiss. Weiss is a real-life teacher, in music and dance. The character tries to help her students understand the great stories like "The Scarlet Letter and "Streetcar Named Desire," and she even dresses up as the story characters to capture the kids' interest.

She is flirty with men, has been married twice, and is representative of the dedicated teacher who tries her level best each day to prevent her students from "becoming attached to a fry pan at McDonald's."

Susan Wagner, an overbearing administrator, is played perfectly by Clare Twomey. She is in constant battle with the teachers, ambitiously plotting to get a big promotion. She comes from "three generations of educators," who still call her father "Principal." She has a strong voice and an annoying click with her teeth at the end of her sentences, to emphasize her point of view. Whenever she leaves the lounge, there are many wisecracks made about her.

Also on the teaching staff is Marty Goldberg, a cynical, lazy, hostile man played by Kevin Ryan, who's ashamed of his only son (who we learn had flunked kindergarten, works on potatoes for McDonald's fries, and has a rock band in the family garage).

Goldberg is known for his multiple-question tests, never essays. "They're still learning how to write their names, and read 'Dick and Jane,'" Goldberg says. "How can they possibly compose an essay?"

He's more interested in upsetting his colleagues and screaming at the noisy students in the corridors - throwing them quarters, so they'll cease their noise for a couple of precious moments. Unfortunately, he becomes Johnson's mentor - and the kind of advice he dispenses to him is hardly the best.

The other teachers are Felix White a(played by Joseph Schweigert) and Sal Vincent (Rene Bendana - the other half of Beari Productions).

Felix White is a mild-mannered, hard working man, whose mother told him, "Always wear a tie, and you'll make a good impression." As an obedient son, he wears a shirt and rather garish ties with nondescript, bland-colored suits. He is the butt of their jokes, but he sticks to his own ways, and at the end of the semester, during budget and staff cuts, he comes out ahead. "Just like my mother predicted," he rejoices.

Schweigert is an effective character actor and totally real.

Bendana plays Sal Vincent as an unlikable, loud-mouthed teacher whose personal life is in shambles, and whose relations with his ex-wife are rather peculiar. Bendana has a good handle on his character, but spoiled some punch lines with inaudibility. The audience was left waiting for the joke.

Performances of the play continue at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29 at Trinity Lutheran Church 63-70 Dry Harbor Road, Middle Village. For ticket information call Beari Productions at 718-736-1216.

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