|L-R: Elizabeth Meadows Rouse and Jane West in EDUCATION. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
Bryan Dykstra has covered all his liberal-progressive bases (or should that be biases) in Education, his two-act play currently premiering at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan. The play’s principal male protagonist, Mick (Wesley T. Jones) is an exceptionally intelligent high school senior with artistic pretensions and youthful rebellious enthusiasms; unsurprisingly, he is is cast as bi-racial, was orphaned as a young child, and was raised by his white uncle, Gordon (Matthew Boston), a highly articulate atheistic law professor. The play’s principal female protagonist is Mick’s girlfriend, Bekka (Jane West), a high school junior who is white, similarly rebellious, and a singularly outspoken poet whose work is laced with expletives. Bekka’s mother, Sandy (Elizabeth Meadows Rouse) is a God-fearing woman, much taken to citing the scriptures in support of her narrow-minded right wing religious beliefs while Bekka’s father (who we never actually meet) is a fundamentalist Christian deacon so mired in his primitive theology that it comes as little surprise when it turns out that he beats his daughter. Rounding out the cast is Mr. Kirks (Bruce Faulk), the (similarly gratuitously bi-racial) principal of the school that Mick and Bekka attend who rues the fact that he has sold out his youthful liberal principles so that he might abide by the rules (arbitrary or not) and maintain some semblance of order at his school.
And there you have it: Mr. Dykstra has written a play with a number of easily demolished straw men - flag-waving patriots, rule-bound types, and Christian believers – all of whom are presented as two-dimensional caricatures (the “dragons”), while those who are free speech advocates, atheists, academicians, quasi-activists, and young rebels passionately devoted to the expression of their “art,” are, of course, the “dragon slayers.”
Mick’s first art project is a trivial flag burning construct, for which he is summarily suspended from school. His next project, the creation and burning of an effigy of Jesus made of dollar bills (so that he might attack both religion and capitalism in one fell swoop and for which he engages Bekka’s support), has even direr consequences. When Bekka’s father beats her, he reveals his true sadistic nature. When Sandy seeks to convince Gordon to keep Mick away from Bekka, she reveals her underlying racism. When Gordon rejects Sandy’s entreaties, he exhibits the transcendent superiority of political correctness, academia, and atheism. And when Mick and Bekka refuse to capitulate to the pressures brought to bear upon them, they establish that they, today’s youth, are, indeed, the true “dragon slayers.”
It is all too neat and predictable by half and this would have been a much better play if Mr. Dykstra had provided Mick and Bekka with more formidable antagonists in the personae of Bekka’s parents and Mr.Kirks. But be that as it may and surprising as it may seem, Education still turns out to be quite an enjoyable play. And there are two reasons for that.
First, while Mr. Dykstra may have fallen short on plot and character development, there is no denying that he has a wonderful ear for language. Bekka’s conversation with Mr. Kirks concerning her Fuck Poem and her subsequent recitation of the poem itself are absolutely terrific as is the dialogue between Sandy and Gordon on the topic of separating Mick and Bekka.
Even more important, however, this play’s production has been blessed with a remarkable cast. All five of the play’s actors are truly first rate but I was especially taken with Jane West as the fetchingly exuberant Bekka; with Elizabeth Meadows Rouse who perfectly expresses the small-mindedness of those on the extreme religious right; and with Matthew Boston who exquisitely succeeds in personifying the intellectual arrogance and self-satisfaction of all too many of today’s lawyers and academicians.