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Teachers' Lounge -- A Popular Destination

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Curriculum CenterA rookie teacher who has to convince colleagues he is not a student, two cynics counting their sick days, and a by-the-books instructor are among the characters hanging out in English teacher John M. Twomey's play Teachers' Lounge. The play has drawn laughs and nods of recognition from New York City to California.

Stan Cohen and Marty Goldberg, New York City teachers in their mid-50s, are distraught: Cohen has gone through the school calendar twice and calculated all the holidays, and there are fewer than expected. He also has used all his sick days.

"How do they expect us to get by on just one sick day a month?" Goldberg asks. "Especially those months with no holidays."

There is hope, however. Cohen whips a piece of paper out of his pocket and announces that he has something better than sick days: jury duty.

That is just the kind of line in the play Teachers' Lounge that breaks up teachers in the audience. Playwright John M. Twomey, a New York City English teacher, examines characters and situations in an urban school setting.

The play was staged in October, in Queens, New York, by Beari Productions, a group that produces community theater. Twomey's play ran for seven performances.

That engagement, though, was not the first production for Teachers' Lounge; six years ago, the Laguna Playhouse, in Laguna Beach, California, produced the play, and community groups in Arizona and Colorado have also performed it.

LOUNGE IS A HAVEN

The action takes place in the teachers' lounge of a fictitious New York City school, Amsterdam High School. In the lounge, seven English teachers can take refuge, if only briefly, from their students and discuss the school and their jobs with candor.

In addition to Goldberg and Cohen, the characters include Nora O'Reilly, a bubbly, Bohemian type; the fussy, meticulous Felix White; Sal Vincent, a hip, macho sort who rolls with the punches; Susan Wagner, a conservative who plays by the rules; and a first-year teacher, Wallace Johnson, who is continually mistaken for a student. Among Johnson's first-year challenges, besides dealing with his colleagues' cynicism: A city official mistyped his Social Security number and by October, Johnson still has not been paid. According to city records, he is deceased.

In writing the play, Twomey, 38, drew on his own experiences and observations, but Teachers' Lounge does not mirror life at his school. For the past ten years, Twomey has taught at Aviation High School, in Long Island City, New York, a vocational high school where students train to repair aircraft engines. Writing about other teachers came naturally, Twomey told Education World. "I like writing character-oriented stuff. I like the ensemble situation."

Fellow faculty members seem to enjoy the play. "They love it. I've had strong feedback," he said.

Margaret Nihan, an assistant principal for supervision in the school's English Department and Twomey's immediate supervisor, said she saw the play and also cautions that it is not meant to represent the English Department at Aviation High.

"I enjoyed it -- it doesn't really depict our school, but it points out some of the most demanding and blatant issues facing educators, especially in the inner city," Nihan told Education World. "The issues he brings to life in the play are issues I've seen."

Nihan added that she expects that Twomey will continue to flesh out his characters over time. "I think it has a lot of unrealized potential with the characters. I think his characters will develop as he develops as a teacher."

Teachers' Lounge does not have a message, Twomey said. "I think it's about how people deal with chaotic situations. I'm not trying to say anything about educators as people."

'I COULD PUT NAMES TO THESE PEOPLE'

Key to the appeal of Teachers' Lounge, at least to other educators, is that the situations are very realistic, according to Debbie Richardson, a private-school teacher for 28 years and the co-founder of Beari Productions, a community theater production company.

"Teachers' Lounge really caught my eye," Richardson told Education World. "I recognized people I have worked with, situations I have been in. I said I could put names to these people. I know them." During the performances, she could tell where in the audience teachers were sitting, Richardson said. "They laughed at the parts no one else laughed at."

About 400 people saw the show during its October run. The audiences might have been larger, she said, if the performances had not coincided with the major-league baseball playoffs, in which both the New York Yankees and the Mets were playing.

AUDIENCES APPRECIATIVE

Generally, the comments from audience members, many of whom were teachers, were very positive, Richardson said. "They said they recognized people or had been in that situation. It's being able to see the humorous side of things we do."

Only one person, another teacher, approached Richardson after a performance to say she was offended by the play and thought Teachers' Lounge "made a mockery of the profession."

"But John wasn't saying that every teacher is a cynic," Richardson said. "The play is just a representation of different characters."

LONG-TIME INTEREST IN WRITING

Teachers' Lounge is Twomey's third play, and he is in the process of writing a fourth. He also wrote a television pilot based on Teachers' Lounge.

Twomey worked as a reading and writing tutor and a substitute teacher before becoming a full-time teacher in 1988. His own writing has helped him become more critical in reviewing literature. "I think I can focus on certain elements of literature, such as point of view," he said. "Now I'm more aware of the writing process."

His students, 11th and 12th graders, ask about his writing and how long it takes to complete a play, said Twomey.

Richardson said she would like to see Teachers' Lounge produced again in New York City. "It's very well-written, with funny and dramatic moments."

Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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11/22/2000