Writing Miss Clark’s Résumé (Capital Fringe)

by John Stoltenberg

(This review was written for DCMetroTheaterArts and is reprinted here.)

In cases of sexual contact between teachers and minor students, the perpetrator is usually assumed to be male. But there are cases of such inappropriate and criminal behavior by female teachers too—the notorious high school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, who was convicted in 1998 of raping a young male student, comes to mind. Intriguingly, advance promotion for Writing Miss Clark’s Résumé touches on this provocative topic. It’s a play, the blurb for Capital Fringe says, about a high school teacher who “becomes entangled with two of her students.” Director Emily Canavan, writing a preview for DCMetroTheaterArts, says that in the play she and her sister, Writer Kelly Canavan, “pull blurry lines of consent and truly shady love into the spotlight.” Sounds very promising. But the play itself is a disappointment. Virtually nothing about it works.

The beginning scenes take place in a classroom, where we first meet Miss Clark (Devora Zack) as a peppy English teacher, fond of her students (she calls them “dear” and “hun”), who are fond of her as well. These pedestrian scenes are flat and clichéd and set a tone for the work that rises above boring only when it becomes repellant. That would be when we get Miss Clark in bed with two of her students, Eric (Noah Shaefer) and Alicia (Shar-Nay Gaston).

The problem is not that it’s a sex scene. The problem is the utter improbability of Miss Clark’s character arc and the lame, trumped-up explanation for how she happened into this sordid situation in the first place: She has lupus.

Miss Clark’s several mysterious and debilitating symptoms are painstakingly diagnosed as such in a series of  dull scenes with medical professionals (David Berkenbilt, Richelle Brown, Julia Frank). As a result of this disease Miss Clark falls all to pieces in class, where one day Eric and Alicia solicitously offer to massage her tense, stressed muscles. The next thing you know we’re in Miss Clark’s bedroom and there’s a threesome going on, which we are supposed to believe was initiated by the students while Miss Clark was indisposed. Even as an earnest fellow teacher, Charlie (Lorenzo Jones), discovers and exposes the scandal, the play defies credulity.

The cast valiantly makes a go of this botch and debacle. All six of Miss Clark’s students are especially to be commended for turning in lively individual performances brimming with spunk and originality. In addition to Eric and Alicia they are Cesar (Marlowe Vilchez), Natalie (Nikki Frias), Shirelle (A.I. Graves), and Daren (DJ Harney). God I hope they get cast in a better play next time.

Lupus? Really? That’s what the author comes up with in order to portray “blurry lines of consent”?

If seeing students start to get naked to get it on with teacher isn’t ick factor enough, this play’s irremediably flawed dramaturgy should do it.

Running Time: 55 minutes.

Writing Miss Clark’s Résumé plays through July 27, 2014, at Mountain – Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW,  in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.

2014 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Writing Miss Clark’s Résumé’ by Kelly Canavan.