A veteran high school teacher, a concerned parent, and a school administrator caught between them square off on how best to educate a 9th-grader with ADHD in Greg Burdick’s gripping, talk-provoking Accommodation, now being given a playwright’s dream of a World Premiere production at the Odyssey.
The special measures being taken to accommodate the needs of 14-year-old Michael Newsome (Massi Pregoni), e.g., seating him close to the teacher in an area with the fewest distractions and near a positive role model, might appear entirely reasonable at first glance.
Add them up, however, and multiply them by the number of students with similar needs in what are already overcrowded classrooms, and they just might end up doing more harm than good, or at least that’s the opinion expressed by twenty-year teaching vet Celeste Dawkins (Sandy Bainum) when confronted by Michael’s mother (Sude Bradshaw) in a parent-teacher conference overseen by guidance counselor Anne Roteman (Laura Niemi).
With neither parent nor teacher willing to budge an inch, it doesn’t take long for tempers to flare, and given Celeste’s own anger management issues, it matters not a whit that she was named Westwood Forest’s Teacher of the Year last year, by the time the meeting comes to an explosive end, Celeste is about to find her job in jeopardy and her future as a teacher far from assured.
Stuck smack dab in the middle is school principal (and Celeste’s former teaching colleague) Ruth Lopez (Sol Marina Crespo), whose vow never to “forget my troops in the trenches” seems to have fallen by the wayside, or at least as far as Celeste is concerned.
All of this adds up to an incendiary mix of characters and issues, and it is clear throughout Accommodation’s riveting ninety minutes that playwright Burdick, a 30-year vet of the Florida public school system, knows well of what he writes.
Eschewing pat solutions and easy-to-pigeonhole characters, one of Accommodation greatest strengths its refusal to take sides (or at least not initially), and even when it eventually seems to be heading in that direction, that too is upended when we finally meet the boy we’ve only heard talk about up until now.
It’s powerful, insightful writing made even finer by a positively stunning Bainum, an all-around splendid supporting cast, sibling directors Brandon Baer and Garrett Baer operating on all cylinders here, and a crème-de-la-crème design team who make Accommodation’s World Premiere look like a million bucks.
Crespo’s between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place Ruth, Bradford’s steely Mrs. Newsome, and Niemi’s frazzled Anne are all three absolutely terrific, and up-and-comer Pregoni is both achingly vulnerable and heartbreakingly real as a kid who turns out to be much more than meets the eye.
Above all there is Bainum in her third collaboration with director Brandon Baer (and first with his brother Garrett), burning up the stage in one of the year’s most sensational performances as a woman who, like Network’s Howard Beale Network, is “as mad as hell and … not going to take this anymore.”
Scenic designer Stephen Gifford’s endlessly inventive high-school-classroom-and-more set is everything a playwright could wish for, and just wait till lighting designer Gavan Wyrick, projection designer David Murakami, and sound designer Cricket S. Myers join creative forces with Gifford in a nightmare sequence that will blow your mind.
Factor in Marly Hall’s just-right costumes and Zoë Carr’s multitude of classroom props and you’ve got a production design so top-of-the-line, it matches what you might expect to see at the Pasadena Playhouse or the Geffen.
Accommodation is produced by Christopher Sepulveda. Casting is by Jami Rudofsky. Jacob Cherry, Saige Thompson, and Leslie Thurston are understudies.
Like TV’s Abbott Elementary, Greg Burdick’s Accommodation shines a much-needed spotlight on a public school system in crisis. It is this summer’s first absolute must-see.
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles. Through July 9. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00, and Sundays at 2:00. (No performance Wednesday July 4.