Dead White Males | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Dead White Males


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DEAD WHITE MALES, at Boxer Rebellion Theater. Ambitious and often convincing, this world premiere by William Missouri Downs (author of Kabuki Medea and Kabuki Faust, hits at Wisdom Bridge in the 80s) focuses on embattled teachers beset by parents and politicians demanding political correctness, multiculturalism, nonjudgmental grading, religion in the classroom, moral instruction, and the creation of self-esteem.

Idealistic, committed, preternaturally perky Janet Greenberg is a Candide-like teacher whose increasing disillusionment with a Kansas elementary school reflects Downs's criticism of education as catering to everyone but the students. Janet encounters censorship (Twelfth Night is too hot to handle, and the gay character in A Chorus Line is deemed irrelevant), stupidity (the theory of evolution will be balanced by religious commercials), and venality (the school is sponsored by corporations). The principal is a pedophile, the top teacher a master of politics, and the chief "facilitator for change," Ozy Mandias, a fundamentalist bigot. Finally a sexually abused kid--the sole representative of this franchise's "customers"--grabs everyone's attention with a gun. No wonder the veteran teachers are burned-out, chain-smoking cynics.

In its 100 minutes Dead White Males sometimes resorts to heavy-handed, undigested depictions of violence and sexual harassment. In the process Downs loses track of his protagonist, the play's reality principle. As she's exuberantly portrayed by Janet Tuegel in Steven Young's equally earnest staging, Janet is an all-purpose representative of well-intentioned but besieged educators everywhere. There are five plays swirling around here, an embarrassment of riches that ultimately proves frustrating.

--Lawrence Bommer

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