FORT WORTH The class will now come to order.
I Am a Teacher, the one-man show written and performed by David Marquis that opened at Stage West on Thursday, takes us through a year in the life of a harried urban schoolteacher who finds every day to be a battle. Yet he loves the war so much that he has stayed 40 years in the trenches.
Marquis, an Austin College graduate, has compiled quite a track record with this show. He has been doing it since 1977 (although the material is obviously updated) and has presented it around the country and has traveled around the globe promoting education and other causes.
In the show, he is history teacher Ben James. He is, of course, a wonderful and inspiring teacher whom we all would have loved to have had. He cares deeply about his students, passes his crusty wisdom on to the new teacher and attacks parents and his assistant principal with righteous zeal.
He takes special care with two students, Carlos and Whitfield, and we track their progress during the two-act work, which was produced by Lyceum Corp. and presented by Stage West. That is important, because James' interaction with these unseen others saves the play from being just a lecture-monologue.
It is easy to see why Marquis has had so much success. The show is genuine, heartfelt and familiar (perhaps because others have copied him). We come to care not only about James, but also about the students he is trying to save. And it makes several points that every parent should hear.
But because we have seen and heard most of this before in some context or another, it also comes off as a bit pat and predictable (Do you think things are going to work out for Carlos and Whitfield?).
At one point in the show, directed by Ellen Locy, James remarks that parents' night is manifestly ironic because those the teachers do not need to see show up, while those they need to see are nowhere to be found.
So too does this show probably preach to the choir. Teachers especially have no need to attend. Anyone who has fallen asleep at the kitchen table grading papers does not need to see someone do it onstage.
Since my spouse is a high school teacher, I understand exactly where Marquis is coming from. That may be why I had trouble engaging this play as theater rather than as a fiery speech to those who have already voted yes.