On Wednesday, thousands of students walked out of their schools in a forceful protest calling for gun control. And on the stage at 59E59 Theaters, one high school kid, Mick, tried to burn a dollar-store American flag.
It’s an art project, Mick (Wesley T. Jones) tells his principal. It protests censorship in schools and also, maybe, defends a woman’s right to choose and supports Black Lives Matter and opposes mass incarceration and critiques big pharma and mourns the breakdown of the Democratic Party and rebukes the failing separation of church and state and shames the overuse of mayonnaise “on everything, including batter-dipped fried cheese.”
If you haven’t already guessed it, Brian Dykstra’s “Education” is not an especially focused work of theater. When you create a character who walks around with lighter fluid in his pocket, everything starts to look like tinder. What seems like a play about free speech becomes a play about family dynamics and repressive religion and budding artists and young love and probably some other stuff, too.
Mick is supported by his uncle Gordon (Matthew Boston), a liberally minded law professor, and Bekka (Jane West), Mick’s sort of girlfriend, a performance poet with an explicit vocabulary. (Neither Mr. Jones nor Ms. West is particularly plausible as a high school student.) The principal, Mr. Kirks (Bruce Faulk), might be on his side, too. “I miss that part of me. The part that believes in things,” he says. So it can be hard to locate any actual conflicts. Bekka’s Jesus-loving mom, Sandy (Elizabeth Meadows Rouse), is an overly broad target.
Mostly these characters talk over and around each other, quibbling over semantics instead of articulating ideas. A lot of the dialogue is forgettable, placeholders enabling the next poem or rant. Honestly, the speech could be less free and less discursive. Several of the actors, directed by Margarett Perry, struggled with the lines. Only the delightful Mr. Boston, whose views seem close to the playwright’s own, appeared to enjoy the language.