'School Pictures' review — Milo Cramer gives us the darkly funny 101 on tutoring kids
Read our four-star review of Milo Cramer's School Pictures, one of three solo shows currently running off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons through December 3.
Kids say the darndest things. They also might have a tutor weaving their darndest words into lyrics. Milo Cramer is snagging the audience’s attention at Playwrights Horizons in School Pictures, a song cycle of 10 numbers, each pertaining to a youngster under Cramer’s tutoring.
Morgan Green’s direction invigorates Cramer’s every movement, new prop, and instrument an enthralling surprise. School Pictures is searingly honest, thanks to Cramer embodying each student as their own planet of idiosyncrasies. Unleashing a playful off-tune cadence, Cramer nails down the improvisational nature of tutoring and the uninhibited vibes of outspoken kiddos who have formed — and are forming — their opinions of the confusing world.
From a seventh grader with “dramaturgical ideas” to a 15-year-old libertarian who’s proud to be white to a 13-year-old so troubled by the climate crisis that his philosophy is just to “party,” their complex emotions are all bundled into the songs.
Cramer deftly demonstrates institutional systems rippling into situational tension: between Cramer’s internal struggles (what do you say to a scary teen libertarian who believes in the Great Replacement Theory?), the exasperation of compressing complex topics (how to explain an “Is Othello racist?” assignment), and kids who long for accommodations that have gone unaddressed (a girl overcomes her aversion to reading when Cramer grants her a book on zombies).
These intimate tutor-child interactions underpin the show’s critiques of the classist and racist education system that burdens children with inequities. Taking its stance against an unnurturing meritocracy, Cramer also avoids singing a paean to tutoring, interweaving self-interrogation and humility about their role as “a fucked-up cog in the fucked-up system.” By the time Cramer rolls out two chalkboards to give us the 101 on the school testing industrial complex, you’re paying attention.
Photo credit: Milo Cramer in School Pictures. (Photo courtesy of production)
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