What is left to fight for today, when everybody claims both that the world is burning, and that people are too sensitive and making a big deal over nothing? Education seems to take every hot button issue out there today and push it through the debate of artistic merit and censorship of expression. When high school senior, Mick (Wesley T. Jones), gets suspended for trying to burn the American flag for an art fair, he teams up with another artist in trouble, slam poet Bekka (Jane West), to enter a new piece into the fair which sparks a storm in their small town.
Education is a clever, passionate, and engaging discussion on the helpless frustration of needing to make a stand; however, while it definitely wants to educate its audience, it slips into the trap of many who are convinced of what they have to say – being too proud of its own cleverness. Education’s language occasionally gets caught up in itself, as though the characters are speaking past each other, rather than to each other. This is most apparent in the scenes with Mr. Kirk (Bruce Faulk), who is the biggest culprit of spelling out the politics. His character wants to be the foil to Mick, the turning point of the action and the revolutionary turned compromising cynic, yet he comes across as merely a conduit for a speech and a cliché. The messages he tells the audiences are made perfectly clear through the rest of the characters in much more nuanced, engaging, and complex ways. Faulk is best as the straight man against Mick’s flamboyant and witty uncle Gordon (Matthew Boston) and West’s quick tongued, stuttering good girl than as a raging philosopher.
Yet as the show progresses past these small pitfalls, and other duos pair up to philosophize and debate, the show finds its rhythm and romantic, familial, and ‘adversarial’ chemistry. All the characters bring something wonderful to the table – Bekka’s fast paced poetic raging, Mick’s smooth sweetness and steadiness with his family, and Sandy’s (Elizabeth Meadows Rouse) comedic timing and genuineness in her religious ferocity. But it’s Matthew Boston’s Gordon who stands out in this engaging cast. Over the top, yes, but able to swing between the sardonic quips and heartbreak that pepper this play.
What rings most true in Education is the helpless confusion that youth and adult alike face when dealing with the world today. Education reveals the desperate need to combat something, protest something, do something, while being told you are not protesting right. There is a real sense of spinning your wheels in all of the characters, drowning in so much to fight that one just chooses anything to try to make a dent. The youthful need to fight, sometimes just for the sake of fighting, and the parental and societal concerns, realism, and stupidity that can either fight with them or against them. The ultimate conceit of Education lies in the question: what is art’s role in this fight for truth? What makes a true artist and what happens when compromise becomes appeasement and resignation?