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LOUNGE WIZARDS : In a Play About Teachers, High-Schoolers Glimpse Faculties at Rest

January 06, 1994|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for the Times Orange County Edition

Like its namesake, John Twomey's new play, "Teachers' Lounge," wasn't built for teen-agers. But Twomey, a New York high school teacher and author, says he's willing to give older kids a look inside, and hopes they'll learn a thing or two from the experience.

Receiving its world premiere Tuesday through Feb. 6 at Laguna Playhouse's Moulton Theater, "Teachers' Lounge" focuses on the interaction between seven teachers in the faculty lounge of a fictional New York high school. The lounge, as Twomey describes it, is both a haven and a trap; a holding tank where people in various states of emotional disrepair share coffee and gallows humor. Theater officials bill the show as a "serious comedy" and discourage anyone younger than high school age from attending.

Originally written as a single scene for Twomey's masters' program, "Teachers' Lounge" went through several revisions before it came to the attention of Laguna Playhouse artistic director Andrew Barnicle, who ultimately selected it from some 200 scripts to open the second half of the theater's 1993-94 season. With input from Barnicle (who, by the way, spent seven years as a college professor), Twomey made further refinements to the script and will be in residence at the theater during the final week of rehearsal.

Twomey says he hopes that by opening night, audiences will find a show that, although targeted to adults, offers some important insights--and hopefully a few good laughs--for teen-agers as well.

"I think most students see teachers just as people who stand up in front of the room and talk for 40 minutes," Twomey mused during a phone interview from his home in Douglaston. "They don't realize that we come to school each day with all our own baggage, just like they do."

"I'm sure that some (students) think all their teachers are best friends and get together just to conspire against them," he added, laughing. " 'Teachers' Lounge' should show them otherwise," he said.

With the exception of one first-year teacher, the educators in Twomey's play are a battle-weary crew. The idealism with which they began their careers has been eroded by the demands of their students and their school administrators. The interaction between these "grizzled veterans," as Barnicle calls them, and the newcomer, and how it affects them personally and professionally, form the basis of the play.

A full-time English teacher at a vocational high school in Long Island City, Twomey says that his characters represent a cross-section of the attitudes and personalities he has confronted in his career, including his own frustrations as a new teacher. And, although his play is set in New York, he feels the problems and triumphs portrayed in it can be found to some degree in almost any high school in the country.

"Teachers' Lounge" contains a small amount of profanity and a few references to sexual infidelity, although Twomey laughingly assures that the show is by no means "a David Mamet thing."

And, as Twomey hastens to point out, although it may contain cynical, occasionally dark humor, the play also has positive messages, and a few strong role models for students.

"There's a woman in the play who is starting to burn out, but she really personifies what I think are the qualities of an exceptional teacher," said Twomey.

"You have to have a good rapport with your students and be able to inspire confidence without ever being condescending. (Teaching) takes that, and more."

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