The Rubber Room
nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
August 19, 2011
The Rubber Room by Ariadne Blayde examines six NYC public school teachers who have been placed on probation for suspected misconduct. Forced to sit in a designated classroom—the “rubber room”—and ponder their misdeeds until they are reviewed and judged by the Board of Education—collecting full pay and benefits while they wait—these suspended teachers bitch, whine, fight and mope. They also learn to make the best of things, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and are taught a little tolerance along the way.
At first, I found it almost impossible to be sympathetic. How sad to be them! Collecting $80,000 a year while on probation doing nothing. This fact is brought into play by the minimum wage-earning, ever pleasant to the folks until you push him too far security guard, Terrance, played by Tre Davis. How can we be sympathetic to these pissy teachers? Couldn’t they be using this time to plot their defense? To brush up on their Shakespeare? To write their great American novel? For the teacher, Jason, played by Jared McGuire, hell no. He can’t use this time as a gift, he’s too busy being pissed off and holding his pity party, much to the annoyance of the rest of the characters. Losing the ability to do what you love, being forced out unfairly, this is tragic. But the real tragedy is letting one incident define your existence. McGuire honestly portrays a man at a very low and unlikable point in his life, and although the character of Jason is annoying, we do care about him, we hope he’ll work through this and come out the other side intact.
There is some surprising and honest self-examination, nicely brought about by Verna Pierce as Roxanne, a tough cookie with a melty center, Bethany Heinrich as Jamie, the crying through her smile new Fundamentalist, and Francesca Choy-Kee as Anyska, whose pride has been preventing her from opening up. In a monologue to the audience, the perpetually drunken and silent Kathy, played by Pamela Dayton, shares a painful background secret, but then abruptly exits. Mark Ellmore’s poignant Irwin, recovering from a traumatic brain injury, reminds me of Boxer the Horse in Animal Farm. Trying to keep the peace for everyone else even as he is losing personal control, he’s pathetic yet sympathetic.
While the characters are forced to be in the same room, they are not together. While we do end up learning a little about them and what makes them tick, it’s doled out in bits, and feels like a long time getting there. While there are moments of action, we are left, like the characters, wanting more.
In reality, public school teachers work their butts off. They endure school politics, teaching to the test, favoritism, ageism, and many and sundry everyday indignities. Most of them work these long and difficult hours because they honestly want to make a difference in the lives of children. Because they want to help make the world a better place. My hat is off to them and their noble aspirations of passionate, compassionate teaching, which is sadly presented as an unobtainable fairy tale by the dysfunctional and disheartened teachers of this play.