Home > Broadway Buzz > Show Reviews > School of the Americas July 9 , 2006
School of the Americas
Macbeth
Pig Farm
The Busy World Is Hushed
Godot Has Left the Building
The House in Town
Single Black Female
Satellites
Getting Home
Spring Awakening
SHOW ALL

FRESH FACE : Mary Faber
ASK A STAR : Carol Kane
Q & A : Georgia Engel
FRESH FACE : Jonathan Groff
PHOTO OP : Manning Brothers Meet Jersey Boys
BUZZ HOMEPAGE

ADVANCED SEARCH
Advanced Search
School of the Americas
by Rob Kendt

©2006 Photo by Michal Daniel
John Ortiz & Patricia Velasquez
in School of the Americas.
The bitter end of Ernesto "Che" Guevaras revolutionary career, in a decrepit schoolhouse in the Bolivian jungle in 1967, is a singularly unforgiving vantage point from which to view his extraordinary, earth-shaking life. It was here that the fearless Argentine guerrilla comandante, who had helped free Cuba from decades of U.S. domination (only to see it sucked inexorably into the Soviet orbit), stumbled fatally in his quixotic crusade to jump-start a pan-American revolution against neocolonialism.

"I made so many goddamn mistakes on this campaignits like I wanted them to capture me," says Che (John Ortiz) to a solicitous young schoolteacher (Patricia Velasquez) late in School of the Americas, José Riveras competent, circumspect, ultimately unsatisfying new play about Guevaras final days, now at the Public Theater in a co-production with LAByrinth Theater Company. "Im a small, failed, stupid man…a goddamn joke!"

Thats about as scathing as Rivera allows his otherwise admiring portrait of Che in extremis to get. A sneering CIA operative, the anti-Castro Cuban Ramos (Felix Solis), is on hand to express the pro forma views of Che as executioner and figurative rapist of his homeland. And Ortizs rangy, grittily magnetic performance occasionally suggests a hint of the rage-blinded bloodlust that lurked behind Ches messianic righteousness.

But School of the Americas comes to praise, not to bury this Latin American Brutus; offering neither a bracing revisionist corrective to the T-shirt-wearing "cult of Che" nor a particularly stirring call to arms for the faithful, Riveras play mostly burnishes the legend. Even the indignity of Ches final quartersthe bare, dusty schoolroom evoked with rough-edged acuity by scenic designer Andromache Chalfantacquires the distinct glow of a martyrs manger. The play subtly exalts Ches selfless struggle unto the end rather than counting its squalor as abject defeat.

Story continues below


It doesnt help that the plays interlocutor, Julia, is a naïve, mildly feisty spinster schoolteacher in whose classroom the captured, wounded Che is being stored like so much roadkill (cue a prescient reference to the depredations of Guantanamo Bay). Her innocent fascination and barely concealed empathy both irritate and endear Che, in a back-and-forth dialectic that, though well-shaped by Rivera and sensitively directed by Mark Wing-Davey, follows a predictable arc from mutual skepticism and misunderstanding to warm respect and inspiration. Che may not always say what she would have him say, but now and then hell say something wonderful.

©2006 Photo by Michal Daniel
Patricia Velasquez & Karina Arroyave
in School of the Americas.
These familiar dance steps have little spring left in them, even if they get a prickly, sometimes frisky run-through here. And they only accentuate the plays central imbalance: It holds our interest in direct proportion to our interest in the embattled Che, but whenever Rivera focuses on Julias more quotidian battleswith the ignorance of villagers or with her sickly, authoritarian sister (Karina Arroyave)the play noticeably loses steam.

Its also reductive, not to mention cleverly sanitizing, to redirect Ches call to armed struggle into the revivification of a single reluctant teacher. As their time together nears its end, Che tries to rouse Julias spirits by hailing the "heroism" of her profession, "no less profound and necessary than a soldiers." While its hard to believe the firebrand Che would say thisthough highly educated himself, his abiding faith was in guns, not butterits also a revealing moment of wish fulfillment, telling the latter-day left-leaners and would-be fellow travelers who are the prime audience for School of the Americas: We can honor Ches legacy today by making change right now, in our own small, peaceable ways. Even in staging, or watching, a play.

Offsetting this do-gooder pall somewhat are the sharp, even harsh contrasts of the design and direction. Chalfants sets and David Weiners lights give the exteriors a sun-bleached starkness, while the schoolhouse scenes have a dank, almost feverish intimacy. Ortizs Che, haggard and wheezing with asthma, delivers his lines with sweaty difficulty and mounting urgency, though Velasquez never quite shakes her characters stiffness.

Chalfants set changes one last time, for a final schoolhouse epilogue with Ramos and Julia that has a fittingly churchlike, candlelit ambience. Perhaps in more ways than it intends, School of the Americas is a gently heartsick eulogy for the long-languishing promise of revolution.

School of the Americas
By José Rivera
Directed by Mark Wing-Davey
Public Theater

 
Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 7/6/2006 12:03:00 PM

ADVERTISEMENT

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE
(or unsubscribe)
About Us • Feedback  • Privacy Policy • Affiliates • Advertise With Us
Advanced SearchAdvanced Search
©2006 Broadway.com, Inc.