Accommodation – Stage Raw Reviews

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To what extent should public school teachers be required to make adjustments in their classrooms to accommodate students who don’t learn in the normal way? And to what extent should such students be required to follow at least some of the routine that the rest of the class is following? Those are a couple of the issues raised in this gripping play by writer Greg Burdick, who has been a theater arts educator for some 30 years. The play is particularly timely, given the modern approach to public education that mandates “no child left behind,” and operates under the philosophy that every child should be regarded as a winner, every day; whether or not the system delivers on all its promises is open to question.

In the play, Arlene Newsome (Sufe Bradshaw) is a parent who is worried that her son, Michael (Massi Pregoni), a high school freshman suffering from ADHD, will fail his science course because he got an F for the class. She has set up a conference with her son’s teacher, Celeste Dawkins (Sandy Bainum, also the show’s executive producer), an award-winning instructor who points out all the ways in which Michael doesn’t even attempt to learn, such as being addicted to his cell phone. Each woman is frustrated by the viewpoint of the other woman, and the acrimony builds to a crescendo.

When Newsome accuses Dawkins of violating the state and federal laws governing adjustments that must be made for special needs students like Michael, the teacher, who has her own personal issues with disability, loses it and makes threatening moves with a fake axe.

Her diatribe leads the parent to sue the school district and to contact the media, which descends on the school. Meanwhile, guidance counselor, Anne Roteman (Laura Niemi) finds herself caught in the middle between the two opponents, and principal Ruth Lopez (Sol Marina Crespo) faces a painful decision.

While the characters have their particular stances and their individual flaws, the playwright wisely gives each an equal voice and doesn’t attempt to favor one position over the others, rendering the play even more provocative. He raises interesting questions about disability, personal responsibility, and the state of education today, but he provides no easy answers.

The dialogue is literate and intelligent, and also becomes highly emotional, even raw, at times. Burdick moves between hard-edged reality and surreal sections that symbolize the angst overtaking Dawkins. He also manages to inject humor into the proceedings.

The play is co-directed by brothers Brandon Baer and Garrett Baer, and they do a splendid job of staging the action. They also extract first class performances from their cast. Bainum is a veritable force of nature as the volatile, disillusioned and burned-out teacher. Her quicksilver emotions roll out effortlessly, smoothly and fully. Bradshaw is sympathetic and utterly believable as a desperate parent advocating for her son.

Niemi does deft work as the counselor and is amusing in the position of being torn between the two adversaries. She also projects a sense of professionalism, as does Crespo, whose discomfort over the stand her character must take in relation to the teacher and her anger over the teacher’s response are genuine and palpable.

Pregoni has an appealing presence on stage and, while he displays Michael’s immaturity, we see there is still more to the young man than one would have expected.

Since the play doesn’t come to any conclusions regarding the issues raised, this work is certain to provoke lively post-show discussions.

3Gems Productions at The Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; Wed., Thurs. Fri. 8:00 p.m.; Sat. 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 pm; Sun. 2 pm; through July 9. No performance Wed., July 5; (310) 477-2055 x2 or https://tinyurl.com/AccommodationplayLA.  Running time: 95 mins. with no intermission.