nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 14, 2007
So often, stories about teachers are heavy-handed complaints about the difficulties of working in a grand bureaucracy with few resources and belligerent students. Or, teacher stories are hero stories about individual teachers who make great progress with disadvantaged students against all odds while losing themselves. Nanci Richards's one person show Pedagogy is neither.
Although Richards is honest about the difficulties of the public school system (for example, being assigned to teach a bilingual class to students who only speak Chinese when she only speaks English), she approaches the challenges of teaching with humor.
Richards uses the structure of the school year to frame her show, telling which day it is and what happens on that day, drawing from her ten years of experience teaching in Brooklyn and on Staten Island. For example, Richards announces, "Day 43: Parent Teacher Conferences," and then gives the audience an impression of some of the parents who come to the conferences and her thoughts and opinions about them. The show begins with the first day of school and ends with a commencement speech—conveying both the absurdities and touching moments throughout a year.
Under Michael Tannenbaum's light direction, Richards moves around the stage and impersonates some of the parents, teachers, and students. Her set is simple, with a podium, a stool, and a desk piled with textbooks. Richards draws heavily on her experience as a stand-up comedian, which serves her well. The format of the show is like a stand-up act, with Richards speaking directly to the audience and using punch lines. Her tone is practical, somewhat sarcastic, somewhat detached, with some touching moments that show her heart.
Overall, as a New York City high school teacher myself, I found Pedagogy refreshingly light-hearted and found that the show reminded me of something I often forget: Teaching is funny.