As an actress, Hanna Cheek is very much a product of her environment.
Cheek was but a tyke when she was terrorized by costumed mutant vagrants on the set of her father’s directorial debut, C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller).
Years later, after being equally traumatized by Hollywood’s vacuousness, she decided to get back to her acting roots and returned to her native New York — on Sept. 10, 2001.
She brings the gravity of those experiences to The Pumpkin Pie Show’s Commencement, which recounts a mass high-school shooting told from the perspective of three different women — all played by Cheek.
Sharply written, the women depicted in Commencement break from the stereotypes the mass media too often proffers up during such tragedies and each one’s story resonates thanks to Cheek’s gifted and powerful performance. Weighty, thought provoking and no frills, this is a can’t-miss show.
Dealing with its own form of classroom-based truth and reconciliation, Bashir Lazhar’s storytelling may not be as clear cut but is also buoyed by a stellar performance, in this case the charismatic Michael Peng.
The titular Lazhar is a substitute teacher sent in to pick up the pieces in a Grade 6 class after the students’ former teacher hanged herself in their home room during recess. The school administration’s desire to simply move on forces Lazar to confront his own demons of loved ones lost as a refugee of the Algerian Civil War.
With a complex narrative the play is grounded by Peng whose Lazhar is an eminently likable but tragic figure. Like Pumpkin Pie’s Commencement, Lazhar begs of how much we can afford to sweep under the rug, as individuals and as a society.