If you haven’t already…
You should read my review of The Faculty Room by Bridget Carpenter. Fantastic play overall, with great short scenes and a few solid monologues.
SCRIPT REVIEW: The Faculty Room
Adam: You just have to do Good. And the problem is: what’s Good?
Carver: You—You do your best.
Adam: But what if your ”best” isn’t Good? But it’s still your best?
According to Wikipedia (my primary source for information), Bridget Carpenter hasn’t published a play since 2003. And that is a goddamn crime. This is the second play of hers that I’ve read, but it is vaguely similar to the first that I read: Up (The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair)*. Both are incredibly funny when they’re not being emotionally potent; both perform larger time lapses than I’ve ever seen in a play; both make you feel uncomfortably hollow at their end (for different reasons). I’m now officially on a mission to get my hands on more of Carpenter’s work.
The Faculty Room is set in just that: the faculty room of a public high school. I always try to be attuned to the exact moment at which I become engaged in what I’m reading, and in this case that moment occurred even before the start of scene one:
PLACE: An ugly small suburb in an ugly small town somewhere in the middle of the United States of America. It feels like the middle of nowhere. It feels like the center of exactly nothing. It feels like the moon.
The structure of the play is that every scene is a different month of the school year, and I find this both compelling and essential. As the play goes on, we realize how genius it is that Carpenter jumps from plot-point to plot-point; there really is no down time, and we get to see a wide spectrum of these character’s lives instead of only a few day’s or week’s worth. One slightly strange detail is that the final three scenes all take place on a single day in March. This was easy for me to understand as a reader, because the header of every scene denotes the “when”. But as an audience member, it might be a little jarring that up until scene eight, every scene takes place a month after the last and that Carpenter has now decided to change the rules. In addition, because of the structure I was prepared for the play to resolve in April or May, so to me at least the climax seemed awkwardly misplaced.
The characters are phenomenal. There’s Zoe, the sardonic, attractive Theater teacher; Adam, the intense, charismatic man who teaches English and seems to care little for his students; and the new guy, Carver, the World History teacher who is a little too full of school spirit. Of the three, it’s tough to pin down a single “main character”, and this adds to its charm. It really feels like a story about all of them. The minor characters are very minor. Principal Dennis only speaks through the P.A. system, which is hilarious in its own right: he uses different animal sound clips every time he starts or ends an announcement. Plus, the system doubles as a microphone, so characters have conversations with him almost as though conversing with God. There is also Bill, the Ethics teacher who doesn’t speak, and is fondly described in the character list as "Somewhere between 40 and death."
I really can’t say too much about the plot without giving it away. It moves so quickly that almost everything would be a spoiler, and one of the best things about the play is the way that everything unravels. Here’s a non-descriptive bullet-point list of things that occur:
- Zoe and Adam make a joke about dating students in the first scene, and much of the play is made of whether this is strictly a joke or not.
- From the beginning of the play (September), Carver is planning Spirit Week which happens in March.
- Details about Zoe and Adam’s history are steadily revealed.
- A sort-of-cult develops on campus; its fervor grows as the months pass.
- Adam finds out more about Carver’s past life than Carver wants anyone to know.
- At several points it is clear that the teachers’ behavior mirrors the high school student mindset.
Conclusion: The Faculty Room is a true dark comedy that is sharply funny one moment and sickeningly intense the next, and it does both perfectly. While I didn’t love the ending as much as I could have, I feel that the tenseness of it was lost on me because I was reading the script and not watching the show: there is a cacophony of noises that usher in the climax, and the lack of that made it less powerful. Overall though, this (along with Up, incidentally) is easily one of my favorite plays, and certainly the best that I’ve read in recent months.
*Find Up, and read it right now. I won’t even be offended if you click away from this review to do so. It’s an amazing, gorgeous play. If you love theatre, you owe it to yourself to read this play.