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A CurtainUp Review
And Miles to Go
By Jacob Horn
And Miles to Go is a profoundly affecting show, driven by great directing from Hal Brooks and featuring some fantastic performances (especially from Danson). A wonderfully evocative set by Jason Simms, which easily conjures images of one's own grade school classrooms, with the help of solid light and sound design, takes full advantage of the Wild Project's intimate space.
The play is well done in every respect and fully merits the attention of anyone drawn in by the premise. There are occasional frustrations, but this is that rare kind of show where even the perceived flaws are intensely thought-provoking.
And Miles to Go is also a play that is difficult to describe without spoiling. Those who plan to see it may wish to stop reading.
On the day of the evaluation, Ms. Priam has a tiff with school administrators Ms. Winkfield-Porcher (Maria-Christina Oliveras) and Mr. MacDonald (Andy Prosky) and is forced to play babysitter to some of Urban Sanctuary's more troublesome students (Devika Bhise, Keona Welch, and Gabriel Millman). The group gets off to a rough start, but then a PA announcement gives a coded instruction to shelter-in-place.
Everyone jokes around, assuming it's a drill, until the gunshots start. And suddenly, it's unclear what this play is even about anymore. Is this device just a giant ploy to avoid confronting the irresolvable educational issues that the first part of the play had dredged up? Or does this tragic moment illuminate the play's characters as individuals with humanity in a way that often gets lost when we think in broad categorizations like "inner-city students," "exasperated teachers," and so on?
Indeed, up until this point, the characters are strongly archetypal. The educators all take on the roles we've come to expect from the media's education coverage and numerous documentaries on reform issues: Priam is the overspent aging teacher answering to a young principal, Winkfield-Porcher, who came in eager to shake things up until the system's many obstacles rendered her ineffective. But if these roles seem clich3d, it is only because we've been led to understand them as so overwhelmingly common in reality. Beckim knows what he's talking about, too, having spent several years as a teacher in a disadvantaged New York public school.
When the play takes its tragic turn, it's not by any means an unbelievable twist. This is the kind of freak event that nobody ever thinks is going to happen until it does; it is an episode of random, senseless violence that requires no motivation or justification. This is a horror with which we are all too familiar these days.
Here, Danson, Bhise, Welch, and Millman play out that sense of horror to chillingly vivid effect. Their performance as an ensemble is fantastic, as they go from antagonistic adversaries to each other's only comfort in an incredibly dark moment. The scene in which the shooting takes place is excruciating, and watching these four performers' characters experiencing it together deepens the emotional impact considerably.
Meanwhile, though, you can't help but wonder if the play eclipses its own message by distracting from one social issue using another one that is rawer and more dramatic. Is there only enough room for one hot-button issue in 70 minutes? It's an absurd question, clearly, because the failing education system and rise in gun violence are both significant problems in today's world. In asking whether the two issues can fit into the play together, Beckim may just wind up prompting careful thought about both after all.
That's the funny thing about And Miles to Go. Every time it seems to come up short, that apparent shortcoming seems a tremendous asset after a bit more thought. Beckim is blunt in his indictment of a current state of affairs, and Brooks' production fulfills the goal of the script in tackling its subject matter directly and forcefully.