Review: ‘School Play’ at Tribe of Fools

What is education? Just because you attend school and sit in a desk doesn’t mean you learn something. In addition, learning can happen beyond the traditional classroom.

In School Play, Terry Brennan plays himself at nine years old in the fourth grade. This one-man show, written by Brennan and Jack Tamburri, depicts a typical day in the life of a smart fourth grader who just can’t seem to fit into the regular classroom. Tamburri directs Brennan in this funny and poignant look at the issues that a child may face in the daily grind of school. Filled with lots of acrobatics, this very physical show is well-coordinated and makes the most of its lighting, set and sound design.

Terry Brennan. Photo by Nick Mazzuca.
Terry Brennan. Photo by Nick Mazzuca.

Brennan gives an energetic and engaging performance in School Play. He jumps around, does cartwheels, handstands and squeezes himself in and out of the desk. Like many 9-year-olds, he fidgets and talks out of turn. His characterization is excellent and believable even though he is considerably older in real life. The sound and lighting design, by Kyle Yackoski and Robin Stamey, help depict what is going on in Terry’s mind, when he starts to lose focus and daydream in class. For example, when his unseen teacher, Ms. Jackson, tells him to “keep it inside,” he launches into an outlandish dance medley with his desk, which encompasses tango, lindy, disco and “dirty dancing.” Popular recorded music tracks and different colored lighting accompany each style.

Even though Brennan is the only character, the set design and the script make it easy to imagine an entire class of children and the teacher. Terry often speaks to Ms. Jackson and other students in the class. Even though they are not physically present, and they don’t talk back, Terry’s responses, actions and facial expressions illustrate the interactions. The venue, St. Peter’s School, is perfect for School Play. It’s an elementary school, and the small auditorium creates an intimate space that feels like a classroom. Rather than use the stage, the “classroom” is set up on the opposite end of the room and the audience is close to, and on the same level as, the actor. The set, designed by Peter Smith, is simple but highly effective, with just one little desk, a table and a cupboard with a pencil sharpener, stapler and a few other items.

I laughed through most of School Play. Even though I was a “good student” and never had difficulties in school, I could relate to the character and his problems. I had classmates who always seemed to get in trouble and teachers who picked on them. It is natural to identify and sympathize with Terry because his inner struggle and his intelligence are clearly and skillfully portrayed in School Play. This is a fun yet thought provoking play, and I highly recommend it for parents and teachers especially.

Running Time: 65 minutes, with no intermission.

Terry Brennan. Photo by Nick Mazzuca.
Terry Brennan. Photo by Nick Mazzuca.

School Play plays through June 25, 2017 at Tribe of Fools, performing at St. Peter’s School – 319 Lombard Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, purchase them online.


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