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Anthony Clarvoe's absolutely riveting ripped-from-the-headlines drama Show and Tell, which debuted at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in 1992, is even more timely now, after the rash of school shootings stateside and the escalating number of incidents of international terrorism.
When a fourth-grade classroom in a small community suddenly explodes, killing 24 bright-eyed students during "Show and Tell," the governor, the state government investigative team, the local authorities, the school board, the school's principal, and especially the parents want answers, and they want them yesterday. Who could do such a thing? And how and why did the young fourth-grade teacher, Corey (SaRAH! Kocz), survive the blast almost unscratched?
SaRAH! Kocz is excellent as the unnaturally calm and earnest young teacher who missed sharing her students' terrible fate by mere seconds, because she had stepped out of her classroom for just a minute to retrieve her cherished auto harp from the teachers' lounge. Still in shock but determined to work her way through her grief and survivor's guilt, Corey volunteers to help the state's crack forensic team identify the shredded remains of her students. It is very intense work.
When Corey falls in love with Seth (David Harrell), the workaholic lead investigator, and they impulsively spend the night together, the belligerent father Farsted (Brian Robinson) and the other distraught parents (sharply played by Georgia Martin, Nanci Burrows, and Jennifer Hirsch) vehemently disapprove. In a nanosecond, their grief turns to fiery indignation, and they make horrible accusations about Corey, who has quite literally walked into Hell to help the technicians identify a ghastly array body parts. For example, seeing a bloody pair of sneakers, with the severed feet mercifully removed, Corey can tell the forensic experts that those shoes were once the pride and joy of a particular fourth-grader.
It is ghoulish work, and Corey's reward for volunteering to do it is to be ostracized by the parents who just do not understand how the fierce explosion literally ripped their children limb from limb.
SaRAH! Kocz is terrific as the outwardly calm soft-spoken teacher who is just dying inside, and David Harrell is outstanding as the hard-charging lead investigator who will not stop until he finds what and who caused the classroom explosion. The potent chemistry between Kocz and Harrell makes all the more poignant their frantic sexual fumbling on a desktop in the middle of what may be the latest battlefield in the war on terrorism.
Nanci Burrows and especially Georgia Martin are superb as two hard-boiled forensic technicians, who must repeatedly steel themselves, so that they can keep sane while performing their grisly, unspeakable task of retrieving and identifying bits of bone and chunks of flesh. And Jennifer Hirsch is great as the wide-eyed newcomer who likes this front-line assignment so much better than her previous internship with the state parks and recreation department.
As usual, REP artistic director C. Glen Matthews does a superlative job of putting the audience at Ground Zero. Matthews invariably handles plays about controversial subjects better than almost anyone else in the Triangle. He stages Show and Tell with great passion and sensitivity, and adds to his directorial laurels with this crackerjack.
Matthews gets strong support from production designer Miyuki Su, lighting designer Thomas Mauney, and assistant director and sound designer Heather Willcox. Together, REP's exceptional cast and creative team combine to create what is, perhaps, the most powerful production of the year to date. Show and Tell is must-see theater at its most provocative.
Raleigh Ensemble Players presents Show and Tell Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 23-26, at 8 p.m. in Gallery II of Artspace, 201 East Davie St., Raleigh. (NOTE: There will be an audio-described [by Arts Access] and sign-language-interpreted performance, with a "touch tour" provided at 7:20 p.m. Oct. 25) $15 ($10 students with ID and $12 seniors 60+/military personnel). 919/832-9607. http://www.realtheatre.org/.