This is a play in which an insane teacher lectures to her eighth grade students — the audience seated in rows with desks — for two acts. Miss Margarida does everything a teacher should never do. She’s volatile, violent, seductive, intimidating, sexually exhibitionist, domineering, vulgar, rigid, irrational and inconsistent and you can’t follow a thing she says. Her “lecture” meanders in a kind of free-for-all of psychic drives with, when the stage lights dim, psychic memories that don’t add insight; there’s nothing there “to learn” and a threatening sexual current runs through it. It’s not a “tragic comedy for an impetuous woman” as Bay Street describes in their flier and which drew me to see it — impetuous my foot, she’s loony.
(While describing it as a “developmental production,” the flier leaves out the name of the playwright.)
Can an audience (or reader) identify in a meaningful way with a character totally out of touch? In Peter Weiss’ Marat Sade, Sade is, well, decidedly odd, but not this nuts.
The closest answer “yes” to the question I can think of is The Foundry Theatre’s recent Telephone, reviewed here in February, in which Birgit Huppuch kept the audience spellbound through her fast-flowing, elegant, one-act monolog of Miss St, Jung’s schizophrenic madwoman who “suffers the slander of invisible telephones and tells you all about it.” But playwright Ariana Reines gave Miss St more richly nuanced emotional shifts and surprising changes of course than this author comes up with. And Miss St is only at it for one act. Miss Margarida is the whole play. The cast does include also a designated student among the audience, an actor who runs up to the stage a few times during the performance (we worry for his eighth-grade chastity) but he has no lines and, as far as I can see, doesn’t add to character development or the audience’s insight.
Written in 1973 by Brazilian playwright Robert Athayde as a satire of dictatorship, Miss Margarida’s Way was initially banned in Brazil. As Mel Gussow, however, noted in 1990, it’s too thin and under-characterized to work as effective satire.
Julie Halston’s performance is a great tour de force, and if you love fine acting, and are in the vicinity, she’s a reason to see the show. She’s as comedic as Carol Burnett with, in addition, remarkable switches to tenderness, confusion, and other unfunny states of mind. It’s fascinating to watch the way she persuasively captures the affect of an earnest, middle-aged “Biology” teacher with stiffly blown hair while plowing ahead unstoppably as a teacher from Hell, the normal and the bizarre crossing tracks. She’s as brilliant in the role as Birgit Huppuch was in Telephone, but with a script that’s more repetitive and flatter in terms of language. What I learned from this “teacher” was — don’t miss Julie Halston’s next show.
Miss Margarida’s Way plays at The Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, LI, NY Aug 19 – 22 and Aug 26 – 29.