Once again, Theater for a New City is touring a free, original hour-long musical through New York City streets, playgrounds and parks, as it has nearly every summer for almost half a century. As in the past, “Teacher! Teacher! Or PS I Love You” fuses a jazzy eclectic score (by Peter Dizozza), with a makeshift mix of dance, song, silly costumes, painted backdrops, satire in sometimes questionable taste and scattershot social consciousness. In this year’s show, the focus (to the extent there is one) is on the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion, on toxic emissions from power plants and on gun regulation in New York City, but other issues that get a scene, a musical number, or at least a mention include the Russian invasion of Ukraine; climate change, and school shootings.
The satirical scenes with the Supreme Court are the most memorable, thanks to their costumes, and such lines from the conservative judges as: “Uterus is not in the constitution.”
Perhaps my admiration for this annual effort has given me a too rosy memory of the most recent shows — Shame or the Doomsday Machine. in 2018, No Brainer, Or The Solution to Parasites,” in 2019 , Liberty, Or Just Us a virtual presentation in 2020, and Critical Care, or Rehearsals for a Nurse in 2021 – because “Teacher! Teacher!” seems to be even more slapdash and padded than usual, with a plot that toggles between incoherent and nonexistent.
The seventh grade students of George Washington Carver Middle School want to protest the many wrongs happening in America, but Principal Henry and teacher Mrs. Williams (standouts Michael David Gordon and Cheryl Gadsten) believe in the importance of strict adherence to school rules, so they disapprove of one of their best students missing his final exams in math and social studies in order to attend an anti-gun rally, and initially refuse to allow him to take make-up exams. But then Principal Henry falls asleep, and two slain students from at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, now with angel wings, introduce him to the Exceptions to the Rule, the following figures from American history:
Crispus Attucks (portrayed by Dan Kelly), the first American to die in the American Revolution
Amelia Earhart (Erin Gassner), the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic
Ruby Nell Bridges (Alison Patrick),, the first African American child to integrate the Public Schools in Louisiana, and her teacher Barbara Henry (portrayed to great cheers by Crystal Field, the artistic director of Theater for a New City, and the director, book writer and lyricist for “Teacher! Teacher!”)
Cesar Chavez (Matthew Angel), who organized farm workers
Marsha P Johnson (Terry Lee King), who helped lead the LGBT rebellion at Stonewall – which leads to a chorus of dancing drag queens.
Principal Henry wakes up, sees the light, and leads the large enthusiastic cast, now wearing graduation caps, in the song “P.S. I Love You.”:
So we gotta stick together
And you gotta vote
And ask the hard questions
That keep democracy afloat.
Top left: Asher Cohen and Emily Pezzella as slain students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, now angels, enlighten the school principal, Michael David Gordon, who’s dreaming. Bottom left: The TNC band. Bottom left: Marsha P. Johnson and chorus of drag queens.
Sunday, Aug 7 @ 2:00 PM: BRONX — St. Mary’s Park, at East 147th Street and St. Ann’s Ave.
Saturday. Aug 13 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Wise Towers, 117 West 90th Street
Sunday, Aug 14 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Central Park Bandshell, 72nd Street Crosswalk
Friday, Aug 19 @ 6:30 PM: BROOKLYN — Coney Island Boardwalk @ W. 10th Street
Sat, Aug 20 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Abe Lebwohl Park @St. Marks Church, E. 10th St. & 2nd Ave.
Sunday, Aug 21 @2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Jackie Robinson Park, W. 147th St. & Bradhurst Ave.
Saturday, Aug 27 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Washington Square Park
Sunday, August 28 @ 2:00 PM: QUEENS — Travers Park, 34th Avenue Between 77th and 78th Street
Saturday, Sept 10 @ 2:00 PM: BROOKLYN — Sunset Park, 6th Ave. & 44th Street
Sun, Sept 11 @ 2:00 PM: BROOKLYN — Ft. Greene Park, Myrtle Ave. bet. N. Portland Ave. & St. Edwards St.
Saturday, September 17 @ 2:00 PM: STATEN ISLAND — Tappen Park at Canal, Bay and Water Streets
Sunday, September 18 @ 2:00 PM: MANHATTAN — Tompkins Square Park at E. 7th St. & Ave A