by Brittany Crowell
Dana wants to be a pirate queen; Jade is afraid to ask her dad for flashcards; Jason is a self-proclaimed ladies man (at only15); and Charlotte needs to practice her monologue for a high school entrance audition.
Milo Cramer’s School Pictures gives us a snapshot into the lives of young New York students who are struggling with remote learning, parental approval, bullies at school, getting into high school in the NYC school system, and so much more.
Setting the stage with a simple, school-reminiscent set of yellow-hued bulletin panels with 10 construction-paper-and-marker-drawn names posted from stage right to left, set designer Andreea Mincic brings us into Cramer’s classroom. The set encompasses both the world of the student and the teacher as it partners a large school desk with a child’s school-chair and instruments that progress from tinker toy and ukulele, to upright piano and electric keyboard (sound design & music direction by Michael Kiley). Milo, our narrator, inhabits each environment with a sense of adventure as they stand “carpe diem” style on the teacher’s desk or sit with criss-cross legs on the floor..
The whole piece, directed by Morgan Green, strikes this balance as it inhabits both student and teacher and brings out the senses of loneliness and existentialism that we share between youth and adulthood. The piece is peppered with moments of joyful surprise, hearkening to the wonder of child-like discovery as Milo opens a panel of the back wall to reveal a small child’s piano, or wanders backstage to loud clangs, pulling forth a keyboard and amplifier. Cramer plays each of these moments with a fabulous cheekiness, balancing their sense of play and discovery with that of a person holding onto a gleeful secret they’ve yet to reveal.
Milo paints each student’s portrait through song. Their beautifully raw singing is more honest and emotive than your regular cabaret musical. Comedic timing, with the support of director Green, is absolutely perfect and the piece strikes that unusual balance between humor, vulnerability, honesty, and depth of purpose.
As an audience member who was not raised in the New York City school system, but who has been privy to discussions about its challenges and flaws, the piece is also an expose on the systemic issues of the city’s educational system as well as its high school entrance examination process.
School Pictures is at once entertaining, educational, thought provoking, vulnerable, hilarious, sentimental, and heart-warming. It reaches you on an extremely human level, and on a political one. It gives you hope for humanity while exposing the privilege and racism within its education system. It is only running through December 10th. Run (don’t walk) to get your tickets, before it’s too late!
SCHOOL PICTURES – by Milo Cramer, directed by Morgan Green
FEATURING – Milo Cramer
Scenic design by Andreea Mincic; lighting by Taylor Lilly; sound design and music direction by Michael Kiley; production stage management by Jo Fernandez; rehearsal stage management by Kelsey Vivian. Developed in association with Immediate Medium and originally developed and produced by The Wilma Theater. Produced by Playwrights Horizons: Adam Greenfield, artistic director; Leslie Marcus, managing director; Carol Fishman, general manager. Through December 10 only. https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/school-pictures/