Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Honor Student
Tesseract Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of First Impressions, Will Mr. Merriwether Return From Memphis?, A Human Being Died That Night and 4000 Miles


Bradley Rohlf and Christina Rios
Photo by Taylor Gruenloh
The palpable, psychological horror of Michael Erickson's two-act play stems from our whole notion of trust and civilized behavior in (of all places) English composition class. In Honor Student we witness the rise of a sociopath, devoid of empathy, excited by the destruction of others—almost as if he were another Bad Seed, or presaging a new species in our midst, casting the rest of us into the unenviable role of the Neanderthals.

Christina Rios plays Naomi, a college professor who suddenly stops a student in the midst of his essay in class, where the subject is killing everyone else in his English composition seminar. There ensues a good confrontation about violence in pop culture, which Naomi does not really win. Bradley Rohlf plays the student, Jason, who seems to be just ahead of Naomi every step of the way after that. Career-ending scandal becomes the theme of rest of act one, under the steady, subtle direction of Taylor Gruenloh.

There's a wonderful sense of naturalism heightening the conflict—and even a strange, satellite-delay cognition on the part of Mr. Rohlf, as the student. He's a not-quite-there projection, made all the more frightening by his calculated-to-the-angstrom anguish at being censured by his dean. Inevitably, a college grievance committee is scheduled to hear his complaint.

Director Gruenloh is also onstage, as Davis, a young dean of arts and sciences with a predictably complex relationship with Naomi. (It is, therefore, equally complex for his wife.) And, like some multi-tentacled monster from the deep, Jason manages to learn more about his educators than they can about him, to threaten both their careers. Michelle Dillard is also excellent as the chair of the grievance committee, holding each one of the faculty members' decisions up to a bright ethical light.

Off-stage, both Ms. Rios and Mr. Gruenloh are real-life educators, in addition to being constant theater people and producers of their own companies, and somehow there seems to be even more genuine, relaxed realism than usual onstage in this show—which is perfect, because a horror story requires a baseline of credibility, for every awful thing that must proceed from there.

There are unsettling twists and turns—well, the whole story is a series of unsettling twists and turns—including the pleasant/unpleasant manipulations of Davis, a cheating husband, and all the blindside blows that ensue from being "the other woman": Those secret shocks, in scenes apart from the main plot, keep tension alive between ghastly scenes with Jason, where Naomi trusts the man in the middle, who seems perfectly honest in his relationship with her.

Through August 26, 2017, at the .ZACK performance space, 3224 Locust Ave. For more information visit www.tesseracttheatre.org.

Players:
Naomi Orozoco-Wallace: Christina Rios
Jason Kemp: Bradley Rohlf
Donna Hellinger: Michelle Dillard
Davis Herring: Taylor Gruenloh

Artistic Staff:
Director: Taylor Gruenloh
Technical Director: Jackie Chambers
Production Manager: Britanie Gunn
Stage Manager: Michelle Henley
Set Designer: Katie Palazzola
Light Board Operator: Catherine Adams


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