No new ground broken, but ‘Beasting’ still has teeth | East Villager & Lower East Sider

No new ground broken, but ‘Beasting’ still has teeth

Photo by Steve Durham Written by a former Bronx public school teacher, “Beasting” lacks nuance but nonetheless packs a punch.
Photo by Steve Durham
Written by a former Bronx public school teacher, “Beasting” lacks nuance but nonetheless packs a punch.

A former public school teacher grades Miller’s dramatized memoir

BY SARA LANG  |  “Why You Beasting?” is a drama that depicts the journey of a first year high school English teacher in the Bronx, along with his students and fellow faculty members, as they grapple with challenges at all levels of the educational “system.” The show holds wonderful moments of humor, surprising twists and some truly explosive scenes.

David Don Miller, who based the play on his experience teaching playwrighting in a Bronx high school, makes a note in the program that generalizing about the kinds of issues he presents is “gravest folly.” In some ways, this play avoids that folly by presenting a story without the trite narrative of a teacher-hero who ultimately saves students in distress. In other ways, the situations and characters presented merely add to the stereotypes of characters and issues often portrayed in stories about urban education.

As a former public school teacher myself, I found some of the situations to ring very true. Some of the student behaviors and conflicts within the classroom were instantly recognizable. In the play, students fought with each other, talked back and even articulated the reasons for their apathy and frustration rather realistically. However, they also forgive, forget and recognize the “error of their ways” more easily than I remember students doing. The pressure from the administration to make the situation “look” better — by changing standards to yield more passing grades and cleaning things up on evaluation days — is also familiar.

Having experienced these things for myself, I recognized them — and also recognized where there might be exaggerations for the sake of clarity or dramatic impact. I don’t believe those exaggerations serve the subject matter well, but that they instead distort the playwright’s intention to deliver the core truth of the situation. I did find it interesting that, unlike many stories about education, this play did not follow the “idealistic young teacher triumphs and saves poor minority students despite initial disillusionment” storyline to its fairytale conclusion. However, I fear that “Why You Beasting?” may have served largely to reinforce the very general picture of chaos and systemic failure in the public schools, without lending much in the way of nuance or fresh information.

Miller did note in the program that his aim was not to provide answers, but questions, and perhaps those who came to the show without prior experience walked away questioning. I believe that more people asking questions can only be a good thing for our schools. I also appreciated seeing some very human and sympathetic portrayals of characters in a challenging set of situations. Scenic and lighting design by David S. Goldstein aids in moving smoothly between a variety of locations, not allowing transitions to slow the pace of the show. Sound by Jacob Subotnick and costumes by Sarafina Bush bring the audience squarely in the world of the play, sometimes (appropriately) in an unsettling way.

The production itself was well-executed, and clearly well-loved by its cast. Overall, however, I was disappointed in the failure to break ground in the discussion of what’s happening in urban education.

This review originally appeared on the site of our content partner, nytheatre.com, as part of their FringeNYC coverage.

THEATER
WHY YOU BEASTING?
A FringeNYC Encore Series presentation
Written by David Don Miller
Directed by Markus Potter
Sun., Sept. 29 at 2pm
Tues., Oct. 1 & 15 at 8pm
Sun., Oct. 6 at 7pm, Fri., Oct. 11 at 9pm
At The Players Theater
115 MacDougal St.
(btw. Bleecker & Houston Sts.)
Tickets: $18, available at 212-352-3101 or at ovationtix.com