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Learning Curve: A devastated teacher (Jennifer Erdmann) tries to help an investigator (William Church) understand the tragedy that destroyed a classroom in 'Show and Tell.'

Crime Seen

Pear Avenue's 'Show and Tell' investigates a ghastly crime

By Marianne Messina

AT MOUNTAIN VIEW'S Pear Avenue Theatre's production of Show and Tell, the set is lab-coat-white and imposing in its starkness. Above the stage, tiny chairs are suspended like explosive ejecta frozen in time. An explosion has just rocked a classroom, killing 24 children. It would be easy for that horrific prelude to overshadow the action itself, but playwright Anthony Clarvoe brings us into the story through the unimpassioned eyes of three quipping, shoptalking federal investigators. They assess the case as a puzzle "with very few edge pieces." They joke about "coroner groupies."

As the seasoned, yet so "government" investigator (no pretentious C.S.I. posturing here), the Pear's Patricia Tyler assures audiences with eternal coffee-break ease that hysteria and hand-wringing need not apply. This saves the tension for scenes with the grieving parents and Corey, the surviving teacher. Initially, Corey is suffering enough shock and survivor's guilt to carry her through the task of helping investigator Seth to identify remains. But Jennifer Erdmann's Corey is never so shut down that we lose sight of why she's a natural teacher. Erdmann exudes that unguarded availability children respond to as she brings out the rich subtleties of someone whose own childhood is always nearby.

A bit more baffling is William Church's Seth. It doesn't help that Clarvoe has saddled him with obtrusive commentary on the human condition. Seth seems a little stiff and preoccupied, as though when he's talking to Corey he's really listening to a cell phone in his ear. And maybe that's how he should be with the onus of solving 24 deaths on his mind. Maybe we should be asking, "What does Corey see in this guy?" Because it's not him; it's the crisis, or as Seth counsels Corey, it's "life asserting itself."

With just 45 seats, Pear Avenue Theatre is wonderfully intimate. And the cast of Show and Tell overpowers those small-theater moments--say, a patron three feet from a performer stiring coffee in a Styrofoam cup. You can't look away from Gloria Wang's touching little-lost-mommy portrayal of the sedated Gail, and Tyler in her double role as distraught parent is all nails-on-the-blackboard, scraping precisely between pain and hostility. But probably most crushing is Maureen Coyne's Lucy as she undergoes a tortured, halting progress toward realization--my granddaughter is gone. In a small space, but in a big way, the Pear's Show and Tell grabs you and puts you in touch with the human condition.

Show and Tell, a Pear Avenue Theatre production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm through April 20 at 1220 Pear Ave., Mountain View. Tickets are $10/$15. (650.254.1148)

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From the April 10-16, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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