Lisa Lewis’s smart, funny “Schooled” begins with a charismatic, world-weary professor and film maker, Andrew (Quentin Mare, smooth, swaggering, terrific) past his prime addressing a class of students (in reality, us, the audience). “I’ve sat right where you are now. Back when real people could afford this place. No offense. If you’re here, you got money or talent, hopefully both. Money, mostly.”
Andrew teaches at one of those fancy New York City film schools while he works on screenplays and drinks heavily at The White Horse Tavern. His last big hit was ten years and an ex-wife ago. Enter Claire (Lilli Stein, a great mix of naive and canny), a 22 year-old impressionable, impoverished film student with an encyclopedic knowledge of Andrew’s work, and a hunger to succeed. She asks Andrew for help, and they begin meeting regularly, to write and drink (that would be mostly Andrew), at the White Horse. Claire could be nominated for a scholarship that would change her life, but she has competition: her brilliant, moneyed boyfriend and fellow film student, Jake (Stephen Friedrich, perfectly puppy-doggish, with a bite).
Claire wants the scholarship but she might also want the attention of Andrew; Andrew wants a hit film and eventually, wants Claire; while Jake wants Claire, the scholarship, success and Andrew to disappear.
The older professor/younger protege trope has been done to death, but Lewis makes it entirely fresh and surprising. The characters are three-dimensional, human. There is no black or white in this play; Lewis colors everything gray, shifting our sympathies and loyalties. At 90 minutes and no intermission, this play moves, and moves fast. Lewis has the humor to match that speed. Witness the exchange between Andrew and Claire:
ANDREW : Oh god, the collective ego in this class, it’s inspiring.
Make a B movie. You don’t have to do it forever. The money’s in franchises. I’d love to do some quirky little relationship drama like you guys, there’s just not the time.
CLAIRE : Everyone in class would love to have your career.
ANDREW: Everyone in class is twenty. They would also love a popsicle and a nap.
“Schooled” at the Soho Playhouse, and presented by The All Americans, is part of the Fringe Encore Series, which highlights the best of the NYC and Edinburgh International Fringe Festivals, extending their run. The night we attended, the house was not full. It should be.