Wild Life Theatre Company
at Facets Multimedia International Performance Studio
If you’re beautiful, brilliant, or talented, don’t see Prin. It’s a conventional two-act play extolling the virtues of being ordinary, which is probably why I liked it so much. That, and playwright Andrew Davies’s smart but unaffected dialogue, director Karen Kessler’s ability to catch the nuances of body language, and actors who fill Davies’s ordinary people with fight, passion, and humor.
“Prin” is short for principal, here the demanding and often cruel head of an all-women teachers’ college who considers herself the last bastion of excellence. Prin (Lee Roy Rogers) spends most of her time in a twisted fit railing against dull students, uninspired teachers, and inept administrators, but she is both sincere and inspiring when in school assemblies she implores the students: “Be extraordinary!” Davies rounds out the mostly bitter Prin with these glimpses of her greatness as an orator and her deep-rooted affection for her lover and former student, vice principal Dorothy Minns (Lisa M.R. Formosa). Though she sometimes taunts her “little Dibs” that any other student could have been her protege, more often Prin relishes the memory of the day she first spotted Dorothy in dance class. There’s a gleam in her eye and a wistfulness in her voice as she recalls, “I said, ‘Everybody, stop. Watch Dorothy move.'”
It’s apparent to us, if not to Prin, that Dibs is tired of the principal’s me-against-the-world attitude. Davies reveals Dibs’s change in loyalties gradually, through her speech patterns. Prin notices that Dorothy has been using slang and cliches, even the dreaded “in point of fact” that litters the speech of science teacher Mr. Boyle. Of course Boyle and Dibs’s shared language is a sign of their intimacy, and that Prin doesn’t see it as easily as we do is a symptom of her egoism.
Prin summons teachers, administrators, and students to her office like a petulant queen; she even goes so far as to demand all the details of a teacher-student love affair from the two people involved. That her “subjects” survive her humiliation tactics and retain their integrity is what makes this play uplifting. Prin is not so unsympathetic a character that we’re happy to see her abandoned, but it is gratifying to see the people she’s doomed to mediocrity assert themselves.
Prin’s tyranny of excellence doesn’t allow for individuality, but happily Wild Life Theatre Company’s production does. Kessler’s blending of different acting styles and talents make Prin’s college a realistic and enjoyable place to visit.
Rogers gives the sharp tongue Prin has in the script an intelligent, well-bred voice, never slipping into what could have been grating sarcasm, and she makes up for her petite size with a formidable carriage. The more plump and curvy Formosa makes a perfect physical contrast to Rogers, suggesting that these two opposites not only attract but complement each other. Formosa personifies acceptance and understanding, in contrast to Rogers’s rigidity. Together they establish a balance that duplicates the give-and-take of a 20-year-old relationship.
We first meet Boyle, Dibs’s other lover, in her comic imitation of him. Stephen J. Rose gives the science teacher all the mannerisms Dibs pokes fun at–such as sniffing irritatingly before he speaks–but mostly he has a soft-spoken sincerity. In fact, Rose is memorable for being forgettable, taking on the skin of this nice, gentle man.
As English teacher Dick Walker, the slouching Tim Decker epitomizes the spineless academic, smiling nervously and squeaking out excessive apologies. When he leaves Prin’s office, he bows stiffly from the neck to her and gives Dibs a small, below-the-waist wave–a subtle gesture that reinforces Dibs’s image as ally to the underdog. Like Walker, his student and lover Melanie starts out nearly as caricature. Heads taller than Rogers and Formosa and talking in heavy flat tones, Lusia Strus gives Melanie an oafishness that at first belies the character’s insight. Both Decker and Strus play for laughs, but without losing that mix of vulnerability and defiance that makes us root for Walker and Melanie.
Prin holds court in a rich, tastefully decorated office designed by Tim Kough. From a central bay window that looks onto a green playing field, she judges the world, armed with her high ideals and secure in her conclusions. The play leaves us with a strong image of a woman continually looking out and woefully neglecting to look within.