POSTED ON APRIL 8, 2009:
When plans change, a night out at the Tulsa PAC is a nice alternative
It had been nearly two-and-a-half years since I'd last visited the Tulsa PAC, but after the spring snowstorm on March 28 cancelled my planned adventure to the Tulsa Flea Market, my extended stretch of absences came to an end. I'll have to wait for a future weekend for the flea market at the fairgrounds. Instead, my Sunday afternoon was spent at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Liddy Doenges Theatre, 110 E. 2nd St., for Up the Down Staircase, a joint production between Theatre Tulsa and Clark Theater. As with other previous experiences at the PAC, my time was well spent.
I've learned that instead of panicking on those rare insipid weeks in Tulsa, calmly turning to the 7 + One section of this publication (see page 44) can solve even the most daunting of "what to dos?" It again proved commendable.
This play's cast was diverse, largely because of the collaborative nature of the production. Clark Theater, like Heller Theatre, is a drama program aimed at Tulsa youth. Both theatres are part of the Tulsa Parks and Recreation department, an unlikely, yet worthwhile partnership. By my estimation, more than half the cast of Up the Down Staircase were youth. And, all did a credible job in their respective roles.
According to co-director Julie Tattershall, theatre is alive and well in Tulsa with 20 theatres around town and, by comparison, Oklahoma City has only five. The number of entertainment options solely within the PAC that Sunday was enough evidence for me. Cristi and I had our choice between the play in the Liddy Doenges Theatre and the ballet Carnival in the Chapman Music Hall, but we'd come for the play and couldn't forsake it.
Tickets to this event varied from $5 for teachers to $15 for students to the general admission price of $17.50. Comparatively speaking, tickets to the ballet ranged in price from $20 to $70. In the past, I've attended PAC events with similar ticket prices, although, if I'm paying, I prefer the price of the former event.
As the March 26-April 1 edition of UTW explained, Up the Down Staircase is the story of a young schoolteacher's first assignment in a less-than-ideal inner-city school. Apathy and detachment on the part of her new students serve as a wakeup call for the naïve, recent college graduate Ms. Sylvia Barrett, played by George Romero. The play is based on the book my Bel Kaufman, and is favorably remembered as the 1967 film by the same name.
"Sounds like Dangerous Minds," Cristi said as we walked toward the theatre.
"It's not Dangerous Minds. We won't be seeing Michelle Pfeiffer in this. You know that, right?" I retorted.
Cristi smiled slyly and said, "Sounds like Dangerous Minds."
We'd been arguing about the play's similarities to the 1995 movie since I suggested it the day before. Cristi's final snarky comment about the play, the eighth in two days, delivered with the same deadpan cunning, came as we entered the PAC.
I let her have the final word on Sunday, because I knew she'd get it anyway. But, I'll get the last one here: It was kind of like Dangerous Minds. And for the record, that's not a concession.
The overall idea of the story itself is a good one, but I found executing such a dense tale of an entire classes' acceptance of a teacher to be better suited for a different medium. Like a book. From my experience as a student, the process of accepting a mentor like Ms. Barrett takes time. It's the time required to gain fractured children's trust. Therefore, it just doesn't fully translate to a play or movie, for me, primarily because we don't have the necessary time to see such individual bonds form.
Furthermore, a play, like this one, takes a certain amount of imaginative commitment on the part of the audience. I have a vivid imagination, but my own inability to separate the lack of physical differences (i.e. wardrobe changes) in the cast was detrimental to my acceptance of a mental transformation or those evolving teacher/student relationships.
I can't vouch for the other 100 or so people in attendance, but I had difficultly relating to many of the often-comical interactions between Ms. Barrett and her high school class as a whole. I cannot remember a time when I've witnessed an entire English class full of excited teenagers eagerly, to the point of leaping from their desks, answering various literature-related queries. I shall concede on this point: I suppose anything is possible, though.
On the other hand, I connected with many of the obstacles present in Ms. Barrett's job as a teacher, and the complexities inherent to the position. Furthermore, it's not difficult to latch onto the overall theme of the work: the profound need for teachers like Ms. Barrett who served to shape my life and continually shape the lives of young people.
I also found myself growing frustrated for Ms. Barrett as the bureaucracy of the school's operations was outlined in the play--to the point of hindering her effectiveness. It also made for some laughs, as the school nurse was only permitted to prescribe hot breakfasts and tea for illnesses. Not even an aspirin could be administered to the children. While the book was originally written in 1965, and the play later adapted by Christopher Sergel, I found the level of red tape depicted to be comparable to the current state of our education system. Or, at least plausibly related.
As a whole, I enjoy seeing actors, especially young actors, pursue their passion. Although I didn't connect with all aspects of the play, my complaints were with the written and not the performance end. I always appreciate the bond between an audience and a live performer. That's why, although my presence hasn't been regular, I've always delighted in events at the Tulsa PAC.
Whether the PAC is hosting David Sedaris, ballets, musicals, or local plays like Up the Down Staircase, you can be assured that the level of the performance will always be excellent. And you'll likely say, "Well, I'm glad we did that," as I did.
For more information on upcoming shows at the PAC check its Web site (tulsapac.com) or call 596-7122.
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