William Electric Black’s latest installment in his project GUNPLAYS makes a statement about gun violence in inner city schools. It is uncomfortable to watch this reality unfold on stage, which makes it honest and impactful for an audience immersed in the action.
The Faculty Room chronicles an armed conflict between two students from the perspective of those in the faculty room: an almost retired history teacher, a vigorous basketball coach, a jaded security guard, and a green teaching artist. The play moves between scenes in Mr. Cutter’s history class, where we see Raylee and Donya in conflict, and the faculty room, where we see Coach Toni Moore, Safety Officer Wilkins and Jayy, the teaching artist, decide what they can do to help save Raylee and Donya as they run through the school.
Mr. Cutter (Levern Williams) teaches his students that guns are more than an epidemic, they are a cancer that plagues our society. The parallel of gun violence to cancer is very intriguing and aptly drawn within the context of history – it portrays gun violence as a vein in the body of the “United States of Guns” that touches all Americans. Though these two students, Raylee (Kaylin Lavena Reed) and Donya (Sarah Q. Shah), take the metaphor to heart, they cannot imagine a world without gun violence.
Set in the round, the play effectively puts the audience right inside the room with the characters, we immerse in their emotions about the students, about donuts and salad, about cancer, and about teaching artists. The teaching artist, Jayy (Mattie McMaster), provides commentary from an outsider’s perspective, and her comments high light how “outsiders” do not truly understand the normality of gun violence in some communities. Mr. Cutter’s comments high light faults of the education system. The teenage girls, though thinking and feeling, are products of their community. Coach Moore (Brittney Benson) seems concerned with keeping her star players in the game and out of prison. Safety Officer Wilkins (Ann-Kathyrne Mills) is a reflection of the community and portrays an attitude of survival.
Perhaps there are some unnecessary moments or words, but overall it is well written and well played. The story demonstrates how people are pushed together and apart in times of crisis. Each character has an arc and the actors are skilled at presenting every thought – even the thoughts the characters don’t say.
There is a lot to unpack in The Faculty Room and while it might be an uncomfortable journey, it’s one we should all take seriously.
The Faculty Room: A Gunplay Series: Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. Runs April 13th-30th.