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A CurtainUp Review

Teacher, Teacher
By Brad Bradley

Taylor Mali
Taylor Mali
Teacher! Teacher!
By Brad Bradley

Taylor Mali's commitment to his dual profession of teacher and poet is so apparent in his solo performance in Teacher! Teacher! that in a mere 50 minutes he qualifies himself as a new-age prototype of this professional amalgam. His current work no doubt is an outgrowth of his involvement on the original Def Poetry as presented by Russell Simmons on HBO television.

Even dressed in a business suit and looking rather like a Philadelphia lawyer, Mali comes across as passionate as the fervent group of mostly minority streetwise players in Russell Simmons' gallery of oral poets. While I enjoyed Def Poetry Jam on Broadway and even returned for a second viewing, with a group of students, I now can understand why Mr. Mali, who was in only the video versions of that show, might seem cerebral and academic if placed on stage with the more visceral and often angry perspective of Simmons's company.

One of the remarkable things that Mali does is to describe his love affair with poetry, from his parents' strong influence on his adoration of language to the creation of his own first poem as a small boy. His father was a poet also, and Mali's reference to his dad's "Dr. Seussian doggerel" is in no way a put-down to his progenitor. In fact, the early death of the elder Mr. Mali is one of a number of heartfelt moments in the son's current presentation.

As the eponymous teacher of his title, Mali explores the implications of Horace's assertion that the task of a poet (and by extension, the teacher) is both to instruct and entertain. He is not beyond recognizing that some of the best lessons lie outside the classroom window, and he is very articulate on what he calls "America's love-hate relationship with the teaching profession." He acknowledges his frequent debt to students for inspiration, including one quite visually amazing segment involving the demonstration of geometric formulae. Another, depicting the illness and unexpected death of one of his students, provides a moving and fascinating lesson in itself.

Acknowledging also the stimulus of the Irish poet Yeats, Mali reminds us that true education is not about filling a bucket, but about lighting a fire. That task he is able to do with stunning conviction, and he did so even for this often jaded yet perpetual student-teacher.

Teacher! Teacher!
written and performed by Taylor Mali
Other traditional theatrical credits not given. However, categorical acknowledgements are indicated for the following: Heart (Dawn Saylor), Publicity (Karen Greco Entertainment), Audio (Stefan), Booking (Global Talent), and Graphic Design (Eastern Block Design).
Running Time: fifty minutes (no intermission)
308 Bowery Poetry Club
Saturdays through 10/04/03 at 4: 00 p.m. -- except October 4 at 3 p.m.
Viewed on Saturday, September 13, 2003 matinee by Brad Bradley

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