Faculty Portrait

Custodian Jamie J (Julie Thaxler-Gourlay) watches Claire (Phoebe Holden) shout for attention in Faculty Portrait at IRT Theater in the West Village. Original photos by Ellen Bryan/Lenny’s Lens Photoography.
In January, 17 Minutes earned 5 stars for depicting the wake of a high-school shooting. How does this production compare?

By Andrew Andrews

At after-school detention, Kyle is under the watch of Mr. Y. in the very same classroom where the teacher’s wife was gunned down a year earlier by a student.

When Amy and Helen arrive to interview Mr. Y for the high school yearbook, we learn that Amy’s secret girlfriend Claire was also a victim of the shooter. Meanwhile, Helen and Kyle are at odds with each other, having ended their own clandestine relationship some time ago.

When the school custodian appears to fix a stuck window that might be sealed by dried blood, tension leads to a shouting match with Mr. Y and the custodian seemingly stuck in the middle.

Faculty Portrait shakes up the pivotal moments before, during and after the shooting, then dumps them out haphazardly to be pieced together in the aftermath.

Barely three months into the year, this is already the second production we’ve attended about a school shooting—the first being The Barrow Group’s five-star production of 17 Minutes in January—so it seems only natural to compare the two:

Russ Cusick, Molly Schenkenberger, Shammah Speed Waller, Phoebe Holden, Julie Thaxter-Gourlay and Jessica Nesi.
  • Cast: for both plays, the actors are well-cast and perform their roles flawlessly.
  • Scene: the set of each play is sparse but attractive, with lighting and sound design that quietly but effectively support the performance.
  • Conflict: While Faculty Portrait has its moments—especially the argument that escalates between Helen and Kyle—the tension in 17 Minutes started stronger and built more steadily, resulting in a plot that was somewhat more engaging.
  • Bond: There was a strong, clear relationship between the characters in 17 Minutes. In Faculty Portrait, it feels a bit like Kyle and Helen were added to beef up the tension without direct-enough ties to the shooting.
  • Focus: A lot of philosophical discussion takes place in Faculty Portrait that felt forced and rushed without contributing to the story. I would have rather that time been invested in Kyle’s media exposure, which was attacked by Helen but insufficiently explored.
  • Closure: Whereas 17 Minutes left me feeling that the plot wasn’t fully resolved, Faculty Portrait wraps-up very cleanly—though there’s something to say for a story that leaves you wanting more. 

Although the production value of 17 Minutes was a little higher than Faculty Portrait, the cost of admission was double. The second show might not be as perfect as the first, but it’s nonetheless a wonderful production, and my partner feels it deserves one more star than I do.

4

Andrew Andrews attended Faculty Portrait at IRT Theater in New York on Sunday, March 8, 2020 @ 3:00pm to write this review.

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