When I heard there was a theater troupe called the Frog & Peach, I simply had to see what they were up to. Though they were founded in large part to make Shakespeare more accessible to a broad audience, their most recent production, College Fun, is a 35 minute long sharp-edged satire written by founding company member Ted Zurkowski. With its setting at an elite university in Southern California and its relentless puncturing of a certain brand of authority figure, it reflects many of the qualities of Beyond the Fringe, the innovators of the routine about the world’s most revolting restaurant.
A lifetime member of The Actors Studio, Mr. Zurkowski has recently been focused on the musical portion of his career. It would appear that for the creation of College Fun, he drew on his past experience as a teacher of theater history. The objects of his ire are those in the education community who employ the language of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion without embracing or even understanding the movement. Buzz words like “unpack,” “curate,” and “thought leader” are tossed around as if their mere use can take the place of their intended, beneficial goals.
The cast features DazMann Still as the Everyman Teacher appropriately named Professor Jones, a black member of the theater department who who has somehow triggered one of his rich white students. Alyssa Diamond’s wildly inappropriate Dr. Ram is the first to confront him, though she won’t even tell him the nature of the offense or who filed the complaint. Filling in some of the blanks is Jonathan Reed Wexler as the over-the-top flamboyant Dr. Queeg. It falls to the questionable power figure Dr. Pane, portrayed by Anuj Parikh, to complete the increasingly ridiculous picture.
The one-night performance of College Fun was made possible in part by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. It was staged at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre, a 145 seat house in the West Side YMCA near Lincoln Center. As explained on the Frog & Peach Theatre’s website, the charming co-founder Lynnea Benson was chosen as the director because she’s the “least hammy and most wily” among them. She made use of the physicality of her actors and a well-chosen wardrobe to give color to the simple set of a few wooden chairs, two tables, and a sad potted plant as background. Diamond, Wexler, and Parikh previously worked together in the company’s production of As You Like It, giving them a familiarity that is useful to Still as his character navigates a progressively surreal landscape. At key points, Professor Jones speaks directly to the audience as if to acknowledge that any discussion with his idiotic interrogators is pointless.
Zurkowski and Benson are now developing a new work, Verbatim, with Estelle Parsons and Austin Pendleton, so stay tuned.