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February 1, 2016
Review: Escuela
Escuela, written and directed by Guillermo Calderón and presented at Philadelphia’s FringeArts, asks us to think long and hard about what we need to learn in order to impact the world around us.  It is at once a guide to becoming a revolutionary in an unjust world and a warning of how easy it is to educate ourselves in a way that undercuts our goals for enacting change.

We are introduced to five masked individuals, three women and two men, who have been taken to a secret location where they are to meet anonymously with other section leaders of the Chilean resistance movement dedicated to ending the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who has been in power for 17 years.  The revolutionaries are sympathetic in their enthusiasm to the cause, their willingness to learn, and their desire to bring equality to a cruelly hierarchical world.  Together they explain the need for revolution with such clarity and charisma that we feel equally enthusiastic in our support of them, which is hindered only by the twinge of pain we feel at their naiveté as we sit in our plush seats, watching history unfold before us in safety and comfort.

The students in Escuela are also the teachers.  They instruct each other on how to army crawl, shoot a pistol, set off a bomb, send coded messages, identify other revolutionaries, and, if need be, disappear from sight.  One cannot help but notice, and the characters say as much, that one workshop on arming a bomb is not enough to ensure the safety of the revolutionary or potential bystanders.  They warn each other that the excitement of having a weapon can easily overcome the common sense about whether or not to use it.  The simplicity of the language outlining the need for change and the myriad of ways in which it can go wrong is one of the greatest strengths of the piece.

The audience, like the characters, sit obediently in their seats, taking in the information that will arm them to do violence in the world with only the seed of discomfort in our bellies that perhaps we ought not to know this after all.  We cannot help but ask ourselves what it is to be educated.  What information do we need to have in order to survive and thrive in the world and from where do we receive this information?  As we watch these five individuals invest in their education and strive for a common goals we can’t help but wonder what, in the United States in 2016, is the bedrock of our educational system?  Escuela prophesies in no uncertain terms that if our early education does not address the inequalities of the world, those who seek to educate themselves later on will find an education rooted in violence.  It is in the proposal that education has life and death implications that the disruptive, gut-wrenching power of the piece lies.

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