By Ann Firestone Ungar
Schooled by Lisa Lewis is a drama about Claire, a young woman in mourning for her father. She’s a student in a New York City film school with a screenplay to which she is wedded. It’s good, says her professor, Aaron, but the two-page voiceover at the beginning has got to go. It’s good, says her boyfriend, Jake, also a film student (who Claire likens to Aaron Sorkin), but not as good as mine even though you’re brilliant. Both men have a stake in their relationship with Claire, and both men lose her because her stake, her deep hunger, is to pay tribute to her deceased father with her film. He was an Atlantic City gambler, a salesman, and a man who tried many small jobs. The one at which he succeeded was teaching his daughter to love the movies. And in them they took solace from their little lives in a city which Claire describes as “a scratch-off ticket floating in a sewer.”
Andrew, a married alcoholic with children, has sold movies in the past, and he sells another during the course of this play. But he’s embittered because he teaches his students that in order to sell movies they have to give up their most treasured scripts and write formulaic B-grade films. That’s what he did. When he meets his student Claire, he draws her into his life by promising to critique her script and help her make it better, which he does. In the process he begins to allow her to critique his, and they form a partnership which he would like to see move into the bedroom. She fully resists him, but not without an internal battle. She sees herself as his student, he as her professor; anything else is messy and beside the point.
Jake, bright and smooth, has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Claire. They critique each other’s scripts, enjoy exchanging ideas and banter, and they’re lovers. Andrew’s intrusion into this is hugely disruptive. As Andrew’s student, too, Jake has a further stake: there’s a financial grant which will be given to the student with the best project. Both he and Claire are, therefore, in competition. Andrew’s attention to Claire suggests that he’s no longer objective, and this leads to heated exchanges and threats.
In the end neither gets the grant. Jake and Claire break up. Andrew dries out and makes the movie he really wants to make. And Claire goes into debt to make her film just as she envisions it. Six years later she introduces her movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. She’s clear-headed, sophisticated, witty, and a bit sad when she meets Andrew at the reception. She tells him that she thought they were friends. She misses talking with him about movies, and makes an overture to him to renew their relationship. He dismisses this, claiming that she got what she wanted and “knew exactly what [she] was doing.” She replies, “You make me sound like a mercenary. I was your student. I was twenty-two. You had all the power.” He replies, “You let me sit there and make a fool of myself. You knew I had feelings for you and you didn’t care… I hope you got what you wanted, Claire.” It’s worth quoting her response: “You know to get in here, your name had to be on the list? The guy ran his finger down the page, and there it was. My name. I wish my dad coulda seen it. It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it? When the doors finally open for you.”
Schooled touches on class distinctions (Jake’s family has money; Claire’s and Andrew’s did not). It discusses the impact of living a full life to create fully realized art work. It has snappy, smart dialogue, and is a well-realized play, although I wish the relationship between Claire and Jake had been more completely explored. Then again, maybe that absence suggests that there is within it an unfillable emptiness.
The three actors, Lilli Stein (Claire), Quentin Maré (Andrew), and Stephen Friedrich (Jake) performed vibrantly and skillfully. A certain pathos came over me as the play concluded. I felt true sympathy for these folks, a sign that they did a good job creating credible characters. Their director, James Kautz, deserves credit for contributing to that, and also for the fluid staging in a very simple black box setting.
We here in New York City are keenly aware of our film schools. The major ones, Columbia University School of the Arts – Film, the New York University Tisch School of the Arts, and the New York Film Academy (forgive me if I’ve left you out), take in and graduate screenwriters on a yearly basis and have for many decades. We host the New York Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. We’re full of movie theaters. People talk film in the subways, in the streets, in the bars. Schooled gives us a look at perhaps what some or a portion of the lives lived in those schools are like. I hope this play, part of the New York International Fringe Festival, sees a revival for a paying audience in our huge and film-focused town.
SCHOOLED – Written by Lisa Lewis and directed by James Kautz
WITH: Lilli Stein (Claire), Quentin Maré (Andrew), and Stephen Friedrich (Jake)
Tyler M. Perry (Set Design & Props); Christopher Metzger (Costume Design) ;Evan Roby (Lighting Design); Jeanne Travis* (Sound Design & Production Stage Manager); Joseph McCabe (Assistant Stage Manager); Anna Grigo (Assistant Set Designer); Jesse Tendler (Venue Director); Paul Bourne (Technical Director); Judy Bowman CSA (Casting); Matthew Schneider (Original Dramaturg); David Gibbs/DARR Publicity(Press Rep); Form Theatricals – Anthony Francavilla & Zach Laks (General Management); Cindy Sideris (Associate General Manager); Billy Mitchell (Schooled Apple Icon Design); Taylor Crews (Postcard Design & Layout); Darren Cox (Postcard Photography); Andrea Reese (Production Photography); Lico Whitfield and Jessica Rappaport (Production Assistants), presented by The All Americans as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at The Robert Moss Theater, 440 Lafayette Street, New York City, Sunday, 8/23/15 at 7:00pm, Thursday, 8/27/15 at 4:45pm. SchooledThePlay.com; running time 1 hour and a half, no intermission.