Plenty to Love, Much to Learn from ‘Schoolhouse’
Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 16:09
Every now and then a play or musical comes along that seems simple enough in its setting but has something very grand hidden beneath its surface. Tin Roof Theatre’s “Schoolhouse,” running now at The Stage at Island Park is just this.
Glancing at a poster of this show, any potential theatregoer may cast it off as just another nostalgic look back to the good ol’ days, a walk down memory lane or a waltz in the past. “Schoolhouse” is indeed all of the above but it touts more than these titles.
Instead, this play merely uses the backdrop of a late-30s prairie schoolhouse in order to set up a much bigger scheme. It concerns Miss Melita Linton, a brand-new, teenage teacher and her persistence to succeed in the classroom. Little does she know, the normal school has not prepared her for the issues beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, and she has to take matters into her own hands when a reform schoolboy complicates an already chaotic classroom.
Ewart is well-mannered and hardworking when he comes to Miss Linton’s little schoolhouse from a reform school after committing an unknown crime. With his classmates’ knowledge of his situation, he is merciless teased and talked about, which only leads to schoolyard brawls and awkward after-class discussions with Miss Linton.
After a neighbor boy is beaten nearly to death, suspicion falls on the unfortunate Ewart. Miss Linton makes it her mission to keep him in class no matter what, appealing to her students’ parents and the school’s trustees. Her kindliness and sense of duty to her profession make the character of Miss Linton a very noble one, all made better by being in the capable hands of the lovely Anna Rice.
Matthew Englund, the talent behind the mysterious Ewart, is an excellent answer to Rice’s graceful schoolmarm, as his character’s emotional outlook and approach to his peers’ reactions provide a feeling of compassion from the audience. Ewart is not a bad person, as everyone around him seems to think; rather, bad things have happened to him that lend the unfortunate image of a violent, mysterious felon.
Together, the teacher and student respond to and grow with each other throughout the show as their relationship takes on somewhat of a personal level. They each learn about, and from each other, and while Ewart’s crime is eventually unveiled, it proves to have very little value to the core of his character.
“Schoolhouse” is a delightfully different production that does not rely on its nostalgic setting or relatable focus to make it great. Instead, it presents a warm full-circle story that goes deeper than many other stories where teacher and student reflect from each other. Sure, there are scenes of laughter (a card game with cast members Karla Pederson and Steve Poitras is a belly of laughs) and tears (confessions between Miss Linton and Ewart). “Schoolhouse” takes those and more to make a show that goes deeper than just shallow nostalgia.
“Schoolhouse” continues its run from Sept. 12 to 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 15 at 2:00 p.m at The Stage at Island Park at 333 Fourth St. S. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors, and students with a $5 student rush 10 minutes before curtain. Tickets are available at The Stage website and box office, and by phone at 701-235-6778.