Dorian Palumbo reviews “This Gonna Be A Test, Miss?”

IMG_2934Ronna Levy has had quite a ride.  Her father did his best to subvert her desire to become a theatre professional, and for a while she tried to follow their well-meaning but ultimately provincial instructions.  But when she finally got the opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, she had no sturdy foundation of psychological support.  Without support on which to gain some traction, Ms. Levy, instead, partied away a few years with some good coke and some bad boyfriends until, at last, she landed on a money job teaching, and an affair with a fellow teacher.

With the support of her lover-colleague, Levy got through the first year of teaching and found that this was something she was good at that she hadn’t expected to be good at.  I think we’ve all been there.  And then, New York City, in its infinite wisdom, laid her off and set her adrift once again.  She pulls up in Los Angeles, the dream of being an actress still will not die, but bad auditions and waitress-gigs begin to give way, once again, to teaching students that don’t seem to want to be taught.

And here’s the thing – Ms. Levy is the perfect person to teach people who don’t want to be taught, because it takes her quite a while to learn, herself, that her calling has nothing to do with Nestle commercials and fine dining.  Ms. Levy moves back to New York, takes up her place in the Community College classroom, and fights stubborn with a good deal of stubborn of her own, discovering, at last, that a teacher is not what she’s good at pretending to be but what she authentically is.

This one-woman show about a teacher teaches the audience a good deal about what’s happened to the educational system in the past 20 years, a situation which Betsy DeVos and her ilk are certainly unlikely to help.   While the culture weaves dreams of becoming Kardashians or Trumps, kids from poor families have to contend not even with trying to attain an education but with trying to figure out why they need one in the first place.  In a culture that glorifies idiocy and accidental glory, why go to class?  Why study?  Why bother?

At 60 minutes, the show, which somewhat resembles a TED talk, is engaging, informative, and, funny.  There is also a sense of pathos – this is, after all, not a Hollywood movie.  I came away feeling very glad that for, perhaps, those few who manage to improve their lives by way of a community college education, at least at first, that Ms. Levy is there for them when perhaps no one else is.

This Gonna Be on the Test, Miss? was part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival.

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