Is a learning experience

By Iride Aparicio

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Pictures by: Edmond Kwong

SAN JOSÉ, CA – It is not the Hippocratic Oath, historically taken by physicians requiring  them to swear to upheld specific ethical standards on their patients, but it is an Oath and it applies to all teachers. They all need to upheld specific ethical standards when relating to their students. Sadly, this Oath is not written.

TOPHER PAYNE’s comedy drama, EVELYN IN PURGATORY, is the story of  of what happened to the  teachers that violated the unwritten oath in New York City, By “oath,”  we mean the unwritten ethical code they must follow while teaching, and when they did,  they got reported to their superiors, were temporarily suspended from teaching and sent to the Reassignment Centers.

Before the Reassignment Centers  were forced to close by the teachers’s Union in 2010,  all the “suspended” teachers in New York City, were required by the Education Department to go to a particular room (also known as “rubber rooms) on one of  those Reassignment Centers that were  located in  the New York City Department of Education  Building, where for six hours every day they had to wait for the announcement of the date of their “ hearing.”  

The  “hearing” was very important for the teachers because it allowed them to give their side of  the story to a school authority that would determine if the teacher’s “crime” justified (or not) the suspension of the teacher  from teaching the rest of his/her life. If after the "hearing" the teacher was pardoned, he or she could go back to teaching.

TOPHER PAYNE’s dramatic comedy EVELYN IN PURGATORY that is being presented at THE TABBARD THEATRE COMPANY on San Pedro Street in Downtown San Jose,  transports the audience to the interior of a  windowless “rubber room” in the N.Y. City Education Building where a group of suspended teachers sit down for another day of waiting for their hearing. During their wait (that some times lasts several months) they became acquainted with each other,

When the play begins each one of the teachers  has his or her own chair  in the room where as they come, they have to sit for six hours. Since the teachers have been couped in the same room for months, they also know their names. To supervise them,in the dingy room,with gray walls,  they also have a woman sitting close to the room's door on a grey desk with an old (2008) computer on its top. Candance (CHARLYN KNIGHTON) is both a monitor of the group and “a secretary”or the N.Y. City Department of Education, whose job seems to be typing documents, creating rules.monitoring the teachers’ tardiness (entering the room a minute late deducts money from their salary) and answering the phones that rings to let the teachers know the date their “hearing” is going to be held.

The play  starts with Evelyn Reid  (NANETTE RIENDEAU) entering the room and sitting down in one of the chairs, just to be told politely, by Lila (DIANE THORNE) that she has to move to another chair because that one belongs to Roberta Burke (CAROLYN FORD) and she does not like people sitting in her chair. 

Evelyn moves to a chair in the back row and is told  again that the chair belongs to Fred DiSalvo’s (RICH HOLMAN). This time, Evelyn remains standing looking confused, with a frustrated expression on her face.  

Lila Wadkins (THORNE)  (who is knitting) invites her to sit down on the chair next to her on the first row, “This chair belongs to Toby Fleming” (SAMUEL CAULFIELD BARKSDALE)) she says, “But he won’t mind if you take his chair.’  

Instead of trying to make Evelyn welcome into the group, Fred (HOLMAN) announces when he arrives and sees her,  that he would like to remind the group that they have decided not to accept any new teacher in the group, practically inviting Evelyn to leave the room. She remains in the room and when Toby (CAULFIELD) arrives late, and discovers that his chair has been occupied by a new girl,he quietly sits on the floor.

From L-R CHARLYNN KNIGHTON, as Candace  RICH HOLMAN,as Fred,  DIANE THORNE as Lila and NANETTE RIENDEAU as Evelyn, SAMUEL CAULFIELD BAAARKSDALE as Toby is laying on the floor. 

During the  play we observe the activities of the  teachers on a day to day basis: some read books, others  knit, others exercise and  following Evelyn’s suggestion all read ARTHUR’S MILLER’s play THE CRUCIBLE compare themselves with the characters of the play, and while Lila (THORNE) brakes the rules by contacting her students online. Toby (CAULFIELD BARKSDALE) writes a television Script and all have fun reading it.

As a play EVELYN IN PURGATORY is entertaining. A well crafted work in which their revelatory dialogue allows the audience to get to know, each one of the characters.The play also teaches the audience that some of the “The crimes” for which these teachers were suspended from their classes could be justified.

One of them,  Lila (WADKINS) who was suspended when she encouraged her students to be creative,  Coach FRED COLMAN who is accused of breaking the wrist of a bully boy, that he did when he tried to restrain him for beating  a scrawny kid. And there is also the teacher like  Roberta (FORD COMPTON) who intentionally commits improprieties in her school with the only purpose to be sent away to the “rubber room” which she prefers over her classroom.

Little by little we learn something else about the characters and at the same time something about the school system in New York City and how it worked. Little by little,  also, the characters of the play begin taking life for the audience.

At the end of the play  even Candace (KNIGHTON) the secretary that at the beginning did not say a word except to identify to the callers the room she was in, when answering the phone,  becomes a tridimensional character with a past, that brakes our heart and a present that promises to be wonderful for her


Directed by CATHY SPIELBERGER CASSETTA, the acting  of each one of the characters is natural, so natural that it gives the audience the feeling of  ear- dropping  on their private  conversations.

And like any well-made play every one of the characters in EVELYN IN PURGATORY changes during the play. In their “Hearing” defending themselves from their charges, Lila,  Fred and Toby are masterful.. 

The play however doesn't have an ending. When during the play we learn about all the characters the audience learns little about Evelyn’s life, except that she is married. At the end, EVELYN is finally going ito have her “hearing” but the audience is left wondering at the end.

EVELYN IN PURGATORY was based on the actual existence of “reassignment Centers” It was estimated that is cost the city of New York $15 to $20 million dollars a year in salaries paid to teacher to sit in these center awaiting for a hearing. An although the teachers who were unjustly accused of misconduct were removed from the classroom, the true victims of the system were the students whose education was placed into the hands of a substitute for several months as their teacher, waits for their hearing. (Information which was published in a New York Post article published in 2016 and a Huffington Post article posted in 2012.

EVELYN IN PURGATORY will continue playing at THE TABARD THEATRE COMPANY 29 N. San Pedro Street Downtown San Jose Until January 28. For information or to order tickets call (408)679-2330 or go online to www.tabardtheatre.org.