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Life is in Session

M. McDevitt REVIEW: An Uncommon Core

“Meet Abigail Swetz, shepherding her 8th grade students safely through a heartbreaking year. Racism, police brutality, homophobic violence: all processed and exorcised by the magic and power of her students’ in-class poetry.”

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Abigail Swetz is the kind of teacher most of wish we had in the eighth grade: smart, funny, energetic, supportive, strong, and she pulls no punches, just like her one-woman show An Uncommon Core, which she recently performed at the 16th Fresh Fruit Festival in New York City.

After years of teaching in the public-school system, Ms. Swetz is angry, and she’s tired, and she has every right to be. However, she uses her outrage to elicit extraordinary work from her students; their essays become poems, and the poetry is alternately heartbreaking, enraging, hilarious, touching, and most of all, a clear window into the minds of adolescents trying to make sense of a world the grown-ups they should be able to count on have fucked up. Her anger is well placed and focused where she can do the most good, and if she’s tired, she doesn’t let it stop her. As I suspect she is in the classroom, she is a warm, engaging presence on stage, and she drives her show forward with wit, grace, charm and unflagging energy. And anger. The wonderful, thought-provoking, intelligent kind of anger that makes for brilliant theater both on the stage and in the classroom. One imagines, and hopes, that however tired she is, Ms. Swetz will help change the world for the better, not just with this show (as important as it is), but  through the students whose lives she has touched so deeply.

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