They Call me Mister Fry
August 2, 3, 4, 6, 9 and 10, 2013
Lantern Church Gym
Pop quiz – what do Up the Down Staircase, Blackboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds and Lean on Me all have in common? If you answered that these are all stories about underprivileged/problematic school kids and the inspirational teacher (or principal) that connects with them and turns their lives around, sure you’d be correct. But more importantly, they all have a charismatic lead character, a teacher that makes this clichéd story we’ve seen a million times over compelling and to a greater or lesser degree worth sitting through once again.
Unfortunately this is not the case with They Call me Mister Fry, Jack Fry’s one-man show about his experience as a first-year teacher teaching fifth grade in South Central Los Angeles. It’s a true tale from start to the exhaustingly long ninety minute finish and it has all the hallmarks of a story of this nature. Inexperienced, naïve teacher? Check. Out of control kids? Check. Troublemaker student who can’t be reached? Check. Stubborn student who eventually bonds with the teacher? Check. A teacher who is moved and grows due to the pluck of his students? Check. It’s all there and then some.
This is not to say that the stories themselves aren’t absorbing, at times they are. Especially when we learn exactly why the juvenile delinquent Anthony is the way he is, and cringe when more tragedy befalls the youngster. These are real stories of real people and one can’t help but be moved by their struggle.
The problem is that Mr. Fry’s struggle alongside them just isn’t that enchanting. Jack Fry does his best to both amuse and touch his audience but strains to do justice to either. His imitations of his students, fellow teachers and fiancée are one dimensional and poorly crafted. His comic bit playing alter ego King Arthur as inspirational leader to either himself or his students comes out sounding like a cross between Gollum and Peter O’Toole and not in a good way. And his poignant moments try so hard to get an emotional rise out of the audience that I for one was left quite unmoved.
In the program, the play is described as, “a story about redemption, transformation, the fragility of life and what our purpose is.” I can agree that all of that is in there somewhere. But during a scene were Mr. Fry is sent to “teacher jail” for inadequate performance all I could do was shake my head in agreement. Mr. Fry might have managed to work his way towards being a better teacher, but in terms of a performer, I’m afraid he is still inadequate.
For Fringeaholics – This won’t be the worst Fringe show you see by far. But the 90 minute run time, the well-worn story and the mediocre performance certainly don’t make this a must see. Still, the true stories of these kids and what they have to contend with is worth noting. MAYBE SEE IT
For light Fringers – If you are only seeing a couple shows this fest, you can do far better. Or at least I’m hoping so! SKIP IT