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Performing arts

'School for Suckers' is a piece of theatre full of shame-in the best way possible.

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School For Suckers Cast 

I spent last night attending the opening night of  'School for Suckers' at the
LillianTheatre. I sat down in the small theatre with a certain idea of what I was about to see. That idea quickly fell apart, but while I was surprised with what I saw, it was a pleasant surprise.

The show is done in a monologue-esque style. Each actor in the show has their own story to tell, and does so in the style of a monologue. At the same time the other actors have cameo parts in each others pieces. Whether it was grinding dancers at a nightclub, or Spartapiss yellers from a doorway. The group found a way to tell entirely different stories on their own while making it a cohesive story totally outside of those pieces. 

There are certain themes that continue through each piece that manage to connect even the most different stories. I went in expecting a show about post-grad life. I walked out of a show about the time in your life when you can finally look back and accept who you are. It wasn't about life after graduation; it was more about everything that came before that making you who you are at that time in your life.  'School for Suckers' put each person’s personal shame under a spotlight and forced them to go back to that particular moment that changed things for them and allowed them to face their shame and stop letting it dictate who they were.

The show starts with Ben and his never ending quest for love. His ability to mention Patty Mayonnaise, Captain Kirk, and Winnie cooper within the first ten minutes, made him instantly endearing. Everyone has wanted to find love so his story is the most relatable; it was also the best piece to start the show. Everyone in the audience was made instantly comfortable, uncomfortable and forced to admit that Ben could easily be anyone of them all at once. 

Enter Juliana and her issues with her childhood in the form of race relations. Her story of being raised by two very different parents and a caring nanny who told Juliana she was 'familia' was transformed into an awkward, uncomfortable, and heartfelt story about wanting to fit in when she had no idea where she truly belonged.


Juliana; Photo: Zack DeZon

Of the five actors seen throughout the night Juliana and her constant transformations into the other people in her life was the most well done piece. This skinny, white girl easily shifted into her elderly 
Latina
nanny, her waspish mother, her Jewish father, and her boyfriend without making it seem forced or confusing. She made the audience uncomfortable with the reality of race inequality; while making me want to give her a hug and tell her it was OK she didn't know where she fit in. Her piece was well acted, written and directed. When it ended I knew the exact journey she had taken and where it had led her.

Johns piece was definitely more forceful. His journey of questioning religion and eventually becoming an atheist, asked a lot of the audience.  I appreciate that he knew his piece was a touchy subject that he discussed with no apology. I saw a boy go from excusing religion just to get out of mass; to a man gaining the courage to tell his family that he could not in good faith pray for them. It was less his shame that he had to overcome and more about the strength he needed to find to be himself, even if it meant disappointing those he loved. The piece was powerful in a way that one doesn't realize it has made them think about their own faith.

Sascha's allowed the theatre to breath again. Her story really connected everyone’s in the theme of shame. Watching the piece it took a moment to realize it was not about her physical limitations in the form of her voice, as it was about her voice being who she was and having that taken away by others. The fact that her triumphs and tribulations are actually evidence in her voice made it that much more real. She left that stage owning herself and giving everyone else permission to stop allowing others to be in charge of them.

James story was funny, and awkward, however, it did not feel as relatable as the others. James himself told the story well, his facial expressions and accent (that is his own) made me want to relate to it, and did make me care for the person in the story. It just was not a piece I connected with. Maybe it is because I do not have a penis? Or because I have never been put in that humbling and humiliating of a situation. His story was told in its entirety and at the end I found myself wondering what he had gotten from it. Without giving too much away, I was not sure if his last comment was the big hint to where his journey led him, or just a fleeting instant because of the situation he had just been through. His story was however the least believable, and upon being confirmed as true, the one you most wanted to ask the performer about.

A show that finds a way to mention Jodi Foster, shame, pie, Mary queen of Scots, and Captain Kirk multiple times is a show you should go see. Especially since the show started as a writing workshop with friends, and was completed in three months.

I have to give my props to the lighting and set designers. Working within a theatre that is staged for the noir that performs there on weekends, and making that stage and lighting work for a comedy was masterfully done.

OK, stop reading, go see it! The show runs Tuesday and Wednesdays at The Lillian Theatre on Santa Monica. For tickets hit up the shows ticket site, or call (323) 960-7822.

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