“Teacher in The House: A True Tale of Human Survival” is a funny, emotive and biographical one-woman play that explains actress Susan Jeremy’s decision to teach children with life-threatening illness at their homes. The show, presented at Theatre 99, is part of the Piccolo Fringe series.
Successfully performing 10 different characters, Jeremy tells four interweaving stories: her childhood memories when she was a student, her experience as a public school teacher, her own cancer treatment and her role as an educator.
Without any effort or intermission she performed distinctly different characters, such as a policeman and a kid with attention deficit disorder. Her acting was so compelling that only with the tone of her voice, a movement, an attitude, it was clear when she changed from one character to another, and when she shifted to a new scene.
Most importantly, she was able to describe regular life and the peculiarities of each character and each environment, prompting laughter throughout the performance. Two of her funniest descriptions were about the Hispanic neighborhood in New York City, where people are so warm everyone is half-naked, and about how she won the respect of her 7th grade students when she taught them about drugs, including illegal ones.
Those funny moments, though, were a kind of an introduction to the most difficult part of the performance, when she shares her experience with cancer and chemotherapy. Up to this moment the pace of the storytelling was quick and the mood festive. But once her character is coping with illness, the performance became more reflective.
Jeremy clearly took a risk in this show: She wanted to discuss her breast cancer fight with humor. Remarkably, she achieved that goal and simultaneously paid tribute to the teacher helping others face similar battles.
Between jokes, she signaled the importance of helping children struggling with illness, avoiding sentimentality and pity. She rightly chose the perfect way to convey her message: with laughter, lots of laughter.
Lucía Camargo Rojas is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.