In Loco Parentis
By Michael DeVito; Directed by Jonathan Warman
Desmond Dutcher and Kristin Katherine Shields in In Loco Parentis.
BOTTOM LINE: A drama revolving around the relationship between a teacher and his students, in the context of Hamlet, that is a little too long and doesn't offer much new.
Sometimes it's good to revisit high school studies, but only sometimes. If you are anything like me, it was all immediately forgotten the moment you finished your last exam. You can hardly blame ignorant teenagers for not caring. But there are some subjects with relevance that eludes a seventeen year old, but has the potential to confound even the most deep thinking adults.
Take Hamlet for example, which is the centerpiece of the drama that unfolds in In Loco Parentis. Mr. Browning (Desmond Dutcher) struggles not only to have his students see the significance of this seminal drama in whatever way possible, but also to come to grips with some of its deeper themes himself.
You can say Mr. Browning lacks imagination, believing that some themes can only be understood by relating to personal experience. Since he has a fresh crop of students every year he draws on their sometimes dark histories to help them relate to Hamlet's struggle. In particular, he probes a little too deeply into the emotional vulnerability of his most gifted student, Carly Price (Kristin Katherine Shields), who recently lost her mother to cancer. Mr. Browning thinks she might have some insight into Hamlet's inner turmoil and makes the mistake of thinking her experiences are up for public discussion because she writes about it in her personal essay for her college application. The whole event leads to an emotional unravelling and the delicacy of how far a teacher is allowed to delve into the life of a student for the sake of intellectual development.
In Loco Parentis has a lot of potentially deep themes to draw on about human nature, death and the life lessons that age brings, but it sometimes struggles to take advantage of them. The initial intriguing discussions on Hamlet are unfortunately abandoned and not developed further, and the play instead opts to focus almost exclusively on the not-so-professional feelings developing between student and teacher, which feel somewhat formulaic.
Much more interesting are the scenes involving two underused peripheral actors, the student's father, played by Marc Geller, who struggles to find the spark in the relationship with his daughter that his late wife had, and an Indian student, Ravi (Kareem Lucas), who hopes to escape his predetermined familial profession. Both offer some very intriguing and well-acted dilemmas, which unfortunately don't offer satisfying resolutions.
In the end In Loco Parentis
ends up being a rather straightforward classroom drama about a student/teacher love interest, an area that has been explored many times before, and usually quite a bit better.
(In Loco Parentis plays at the 4th Street Theatre, 83 E 4th street. Remaining performances are on Thursday 26th @ 2pm and 4 Saturday 28th @ 2pm. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and are available at FringeNYC.com, by calling 866.468.7619, or in person at FringeCENTRAL, located at 1 East 8th Street at 5th Avenue. There is NO LATE SEATING for Fringe NYC shows.)