THE FIRST GRADE Reviewed by Jeff Smith



Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle


The Aurora Theatre Company of Berkeley is presently staging the delightfully dark, but redemptive, comedy THE FIRST GRADE by Joel Drake Johnson.


Anyone who has ever known an Elementary School Teacher with twenty plus years in the cookie crumb trenches knows how such a vet is.


Being accustomed to speaking with diminutive persons equipped naturally with audio processing problems and attention deficit disorders, teachers tend to over articulate even the briefest, least abstract sentence.


Secondly, because Elementary School children have yet to become adept at masking their real selves, Elementary Teachers see everyone as if he or she were as simple, linear and as transparent as a first grader.


Does seeing the world through the lens of a First Grade Teacher provide one with a better handle on life or greater insights?


That's the question writer Joel Johnson and direct Tom Ross vividly answer on the Aurora Stage.


Julia Brothers, as the First Grade Teacher, provides the audience with a character that everyone can appreciate for her honesty, intelligence and expectations and yet ironically no one would want her as a spouse or as a parent: she demands too much objectivity from the people around her and, like a First Grade Teacher, is unwilling to tolerate any forms of self indulgence or monkey business.


Warren David Keith, as the defeated retreating husband: Nat, brilliantly portrays a husband that the audience can universally sympathize with; after all, how does a man live with a woman who makes cookies and then hides them so that no one else can eat them; and who brooks no intimation of human weakness?


Nat, unable to get a divorce fast enough, does what most men would do: adapt: he escapes to a quiet corner of the house, buys scotch in two-liter bottles and sneaks in a passionate mistress.


As the expression goes, vengeance is best served cold or on a queen size mattress.


Were it not for his penchant for ice in his scotch, he could side step Frau Elementary Teacher all together.


Rebecca Schweitzer, as the dysfunctional daughter, gives an equally compelling performance.


What's a daughter to do when she has an overbearing First Grade Teacher as a mother?


Shut down, search for sensual pleasure and oral satisfaction in forbidden cookies, sulk, give off tons of attitude like a squid gives off sepia, and curl convolutedly into the emotional fetal position.


The First Grade Teacher has pretty much destroyed all life at ground zero until a more wretched character: Mora, played superbly by Tina Sanchez dives into the family brew.


THE FIRST GRADE is indisputably a great play: it's entertaining, elevating and enlightening.


Why? Because it's a blend of irony and complexity: it's about adroitness, rectitude and a sober approach to life run amuck and onto the rocks: scotch on the rocks to be specific.


If you are getting a whiff of toxicity in your life, or you just want an intelligent laugh, THE FIRST GRADE is your ticket.


To buy your ticket, call the box office at 510.843.4822 or surf on over to