“We are in an irregular time,” one college administrator says to another, an excuse for why the school bureaucracy has so failed to meet the challenge of the pandemic period that its losses are incalculable – or, to be more accurate, not calculated; the school is not even testing for Covid, and is trying to “hide” the students who have been hospitalized. (Timely!) The college bureaucracy’s lack of coordination, of communication and, let’s face it, of basic competence has led to one student getting deported, and may explain another student’s suicide.
“It’s starting to feel like we’ve stepped into a certain and altogether separate reality,” says Kyle (Adam Files), a teacher and administrator of the unnamed Manhattan college in “Adjust the Procedure,” written and directed by Jake Shore, who works as a teacher and administrator at St. Joseph College in Brooklyn.
Shore’s 60-minute play, available on Stellar through March 14th, is a knowing dissection of bureaucracy that takes place on a series of Zoom calls among four administrators.
These are figures in an institution of higher education, but anyone who has had to deal with any kind of bureaucracy, even (especially?) in artistic or volunteer organizations, would find them familiar –the self-importance and self-protection, the undercurrent of pettiness and resentment, the over-reliance on procedure, the reluctance to take responsibility or any real action. It’s spot-on enough at times in “Adjust the Procedure” to feel almost like satire.
At other times, though, the conversation struck me as too spot-on, as if I were actually participating in an administrative meeting on Zoom. It’s hard to assess the acting, because the performers are portraying sober administrators in a business setting. There are occasional foul-mouthed explosions, most often by Frank, the dean (Ed Altman); these do interrupt the flat tone, but also largely feel like a lapse in verisimilitude.
To be sure, Shore is being strategic, dropping in what seem like casual but precise pieces of information as a set-up for later surprises. There are also some provocative debates and rants, such as one by Kyle that is clearly heart-felt about the plight of adjunct professors. Here’s half of it:
“What is done with adjuncts is exploitation of the highest caliber. You can compare it with Wal-Mart and Amazon, the worst and most unethical and wretched abuse of an employee from wages to benefits, all the way down the line, and this is not within the doors of a corporation that is selling fucking TVs and toilet paper. These are institutions of higher learning. With the goddamn red brick libraries and the stature and erudite bullshit. Serving the community. Creating morality, and what? What does the school do? They exploit and abuse adjuncts, the very people who are lecturing and grading… “
Adjust The Procedure
Written and directed by Jake Shore
SpinCycle and JCS Theater Company via Stellar through March 14
Running time: one hour
Cast: Ed Altman (as Frank, Executive Dean)
Adam Files (as Kyle, Director of Academic Development)
Meagan Moses (as Aimee, Director of Enrollment Management)
Nicholas Miles Newton (as Ben, Assistant Dean of Student Achievement)