<em>The Drama Department</em>&nbsp;performed at the Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival

Review: The Drama Department | Uptown Players | Bryant Hall

Friday Night Footlights

In Uptown Players' 2016 Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, the world premiere of James Hindman's The Drama Department puts a twist on a familiar high school story.

published Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Photo: Mark Oristano
The Drama Department performed at the Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival


Dallas — “If all the world’s a stage, what does it matter where we perform?” That easy twisting of Shakespeare comes out of the mouth of Rob Chalmers (Doug Fowler), the beloved debate and drama teacher at Chippewa Valley High School in Kansas, the setting of James Hindman’s The Drama Department.

The play, originally presented in 2013 at the Second Stage New Play Reading Series in New York, is receiving its world premiere production at Uptown Players2016 Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, directed by Kevin Moore with dogged sincerity. Dennis Canright’s minimal set features props for an office and a classroom, punctuated by Aaron Johansen’s lighting design that effectively cues the multiple scene shifts from one side of the stage to the other.

In his opening monologue congratulating the record number of students who auditioned for this year’s musical, the popular Mr. Chalmers can barely contain his excitement. In a town mostly notable for losing sports teams, the Friday night lights are all focused on the school’s award-winning debate team and annual musical.

This unlikely premise notwithstanding, we take it on faith that the city has gone and built this crackerjack team of thespians a $1.5 million auditorium to be completed in short order and inaugurated with this year’s production. For his 16th show, Chalmers’ has chosen Seussical the Musical, and everybody’s totally psyched.

That is, until Chalmers posts the cast list the next morning, and it'discovered that the son of the school board chairman has not landed his customary lead role, and that The Cat in the Hat will be played, in fact, by a bashful new kid in town named David Sullivan, played by a wistful, vulnerable Jaxon Beeson.

The powerful pissed-off parent chairman puts the word out right away to the nervous new principal (constantly edgy, red-faced Shane Beeson) that he wants this obvious casting mistake fixed, and pronto.

The mostly conventional plot turns on the impact of the invisible bullying board chairman on the beleaguered drama teacher, and especially on his colleagues in the high school, as a whisper campaign and high school blogging site begin spreading rumors. What’s the skinny on the unmarried Mr. Chalmers and his relationships with those students he takes under his cheerfully optimistic wing? Shy, secretive David has many theatrical talents, and geeky-smart debater Sarah (fresh-faced Kennedy Waterman) surprises everybody with a stitch in time.

Fowler’s Chalmers is an upright teacher, rigid in his posture and almost prissy in his preachy dedication to living up to one’s potential in theater and in life. Oh, yes. Fowler’s best when he straightens his shoulders once more and draws an inner dignity about himself as the gossip campaign mounts to a threatening level, and he’s forced to stand and deliver—or not.

Kristen Eisenberg as the math teacher and Chalmer’s old friend brings a friendly grin and lighter touch to a sadly familiar story pitting loyal, open-minded folks against self-serving, small-town bigots.

Trey Tolleson, heavy-footed and strung-out at once, gets the most laughs as the determined bandleader intent on getting a few new instruments for his “orchestra” out of the deal.

Connie Brown Bentham is credible in the show’s most difficult dramatic turn as David’s mother, in her chatty, nervous, honest encounter with her son’s favorite teacher.

The Drama Department does a good job in evoking the delight that “musical geeks” and high school outsiders often feel when they find themselves at home among others for whom theater is a joy and a lifeline. Unfortunately, the second act surprises feel manufactured for the plot’s sake rather than growing from the characters and their situations.

Hindman, a veteran Broadway and off-Broadway actor, has written a number of plays that have received nominations for both Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circle Awards. His work includes Pete n’ Keely, a musical comedy about a divorced duo reunited for a special show; I Love New York, a bistro musical; and Bikinis...a new musical beach party. The Drama Department characters talk about musical theater, and we hear bits of recorded tunes between the many scenes, but nobody’s actually singing in nearly two hours of departmental drama. Thanks For Reading

Dates, Prices, & Other Details

Comment on this Article

Share this article on Social Media
Click or Swipe to close
Friday Night Footlights
In Uptown Players' 2016 Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, the world premiere of James Hindman's The Drama Department puts a twist on a familiar high school story.
by Martha Heimberg

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :