The Pre-K Graduating Class of 2011

A theater review

Today’s column is guest-written by Endicott "Eddy" Saltenstall, dramaturge for the Bensonhurst Odeon and occasional theater critic for the Daily News.

RICHMOND, VA.—"All you can say for Kiss Me, Kate," wrote Brooks Atkinson, the immortal theater critic for The New York Times, "is that it is terribly enjoyable." Much the same goes for the graduation ceremony performed recently by the pupils and staff of the Bettye Ackerman Cobb Child Development Center ("the Bettye") at the Defense Supply Center off Jefferson Davis Highway in Richmond.

Productions such as these are not generally marked by their devotion to the avant-garde, and this was no exception. The set was, regrettably, conceptually uninspired—consisting chiefly of a cardboard "ABC" arch supported by pillars done up as Crayola crayons. The motif reminded an audience in little peril of forgetting that the occasion solemnized a transition from one phase of life, marked by potty-training and learning to sit criss-cross applesauce for story time, to a period of loftier pursuits: tying your own shoes, sounding out words, being the line leader, and other such stuff as dreams are made on.

After a polite welcome came the obligatory Pledge of Allegiance—spoken, unusually so for this sardonic age, without a trace of irony by the assembled audience of parents and family. (DSCR is a military installation, after all.) This was followed by a recital of the poem, "Do You Remember," by the graduates, in a declamatory style redolent of Olivier in his prime.

Yvette Bailey turned in a fine performance during her opening number, "Graduation Speech," delivered with a phrasing and cadence befitting her theme. The graduating pre-kindergarteners of 2011, she informed their parents and siblings, had learned "many priceless lessons" in their time at the Bettye. Among them: that life is "not just about learning but also . . . [about] love and friendship." And, she did not need to add, cookies and juice.

Tatanishia Armstrong’s delivery of "Oh the Places You’ll Go," with its wry observations leavened by tender optimism, revealed an impeccable command of timing and rhyme. All of this was, however, merely an amuse-bouche before the main course: the "Graduation Skit" (also titled, somewhat awkwardly, "Oh the Places You’ll Go").

Inspired choreography began the number beyond the frame of the stage—a metaphorical nod to the importance of thinking outside the box, an imaginative skill whose ineluctable atrophy over the course of a K-12 education was hinted at, ever so obliquely, by the confinement of the rest of the number to a proscenium swallowed up by the existentially empty space around it. Ingmar Bergman would have been proud.

The occasionally undisciplined mugging and jumping about by the cast might have spoiled a production whose director had chosen to emphasize the darker dimensions of primary schooling. Here, it perfectly suited the mood of goofy looseness. And the earnestness of the young thespians’ performances, delivered with a joie de vivre that beguiled, largely overcame the interpretive inconsistencies and (it must be said) occasionally unrefined vocal technique. Liam A. possessed a charming authenticity as "Construction Worker"; Lauren B. was delightful as "Firefighter," and Danielle F., who has a bright future as a soubrette if she ever chooses to pursue one, belted out her lines with gusto as "Cat in the Hat." She really knows how to sell it.

Had there been a sourpuss in the audience, he or she might have lamented a certain lack of dramatic coherence, perhaps even a slight Godot-like tediousness as the presentation of stock characters—Pilot, Doctor, Police Officer, Nurse, etc.—wore on. But the unassuming charm and infectious enthusiasm of the cast would have won over any critic whose blood had not yet turned to ice. (There may be one or two of them left.)

The surprise of the afternoon was Alva P. (Will’s dad), whose comic turn providing the "Parental Acknowledgment" suggests he may wish to try his hand at the boards, if (Heaven forbid) his legal practice ever goes belly-up.

All in all the vivid performances, Sondheimesque ingenuousness, sumptuous costumes, and festive atmosphere made "The Pre-K Graduating Class of 2011" a delight.

Cynics, of course, are fond of scoffing at occasions such as these. Graduation ceremonies—for pre-kindergarteners? You cannot be serious!

No. They cannot. Pre-schoolers have not yet learned what a serious place the world can be—which is why they remain, to borrow a phrase from Robert Brustein’s Letters to a Young Actor, "the living embodiment of the audience’s joys and fears."

Not to mention a bottomless hole for cookies and juice.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  • Brian E||

    Was this supposed to be funny?

  • -||

    No, witty.

  • ||

    Failed miseraby at both.

  • FSA Footsoldier||

    Not to mention a bottomless hole for cookies and juice.

    Bottomless cookies and juice?! I'm in!!

  • Pip||

    Are those anything like bottomless chaps?

  • ||

    You have to pay the troll toll if you want to get in this boy's hole?

  • l0b0t||

    Bottomless chaps is redundant, all chaps are bottomless. If they had a bottom they would just be pants.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Just remember, a trio of myopic rodents; they all pursued the agriculturists spouse, who severed their caudal apendages with a cuilinary cleaver; have you ever witnessed such and experience in your existance...as a trio of myopic rodents.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    propel, propel, propel your vessel

    with care towards an area of a lower
    potentiometric head

    with glee and felicity

    existance is but an aura

  • Rock Action ||

    Nice work. Better satire than the article. I'll leave it a mystery for those that follow.

    +1

  • Sparky||

    But you forgot one.

    Mary had a diminutive ovis aries, diminutive ovis aries, diminutive ovis aries
    Mary had a diminutive ovis aries
    Whose outer coat was the color of frozen precipitation

    And everywhere that Mary proceeded to her ovis aries would unquestionably pursue

  • some guy||

    Or...

    The Virgin had a diminutive ovis aries, diminutive ovis aries, diminutive ovis aries
    The Virgin had a diminutive ovis aries
    Whose outer coat was the color of frozen precipitation

    And everywhere that The Virgin proceeded to her ovis aries would unquestionably pursue

  • Sparky||

    Religion is banned from schools remember?

  • Observer||

    ?

  • rather||

    Sometimes comments are like sugarfree links: ya just don't care to know

  • ||

  • Ted S.||

  • ||

    Why is that frightening? Abraham Lincoln was a douche, sure, but I don't get it

  • Almanian||

    I loath "graduation" ceremonies for anything below High School/GED. Loath. Them.

    Also, this was not funny.

    A. Barton Hinkle Heimerschmidt? Your name is my name no more. You are DEAD to me, A. Barton! DEAD TO ME!

  • Sudden||

    Honestly, even high school graduation ceremonies never really seemed significant to me. I mean, it might be a function of the neighborhood I'm originally from, but everyone there graduates HS and at least half will end up with a B.A. or higher. Besides, in most high schools the qualifications for graduating are much like the qualifications for getting a no downpayment mortgage on a $750k house in 2005, a pulse and a SSN.

  • Almanian||

    Yeah, interesting - that's my family, too. Kind of expected everyone will go to college at least, so HS is like graduating from being a kid...not much else :)

  • Jim||

    I'm sure it matters in some families. I was the first in mine to go to college, so my high school graduation was sort of a big deal.

    Pre-k, not so much.

  • ||

    Have you ever thought that Pomp and Circumstance is but a part of bread and circus?

  • ||

    I really love Chris Rock's opening speech in "No Sex in The Champagne Room."

    There's this football factory HS that was owned by this cantankerous old Baptist preacher. He'd throw fits in the middle of the ceremony if people so much as clapped. One time he even promised, over the microphone, that there wouldn't be one for next year. assholes in action = comedy gold

  • Almanian||

    Also, sometimes I spell "loathe" with an "e" at the end. Sometimes not. Depends on my mood.

    OK, OK - we all know it depends on how bad my crappy typing skills Alzheimers is on that day...

  • Zeb||

    Word. I was proud to be forbidden to attend my 8th grade graduation.

  • Fluffy||

    To me, it's actually the reverse.

    Four year old's can actually benefit from learning that you transition from year to year, and can also benefit from being taught basic participatory choreography (following directions, hitting your mark, overcoming shyness, etc.). AND you should still be able to experience joy at getting approval from parents and teachers.

    By the time you graduate high school, you shouldn't need any more training in any of those things - and as far as approval goes, you should have figured out that it's all bullshit.

  • ||

    smallface's preschool just held a graduation ceremony. I agree - a big part of it was an opportunity for the kids to learn how to put on a show. They rehearsed for weeks. Also, since this preschool is also daycare for a lot of these kids from infancy, I think the teachers wanted a way to formally say goodbye to kids they've come to know quite well. Also, 4-5 year-olds are adorable when they participate in ceremonies.

  • ||

    smallface's preschool just held a graduation ceremony. I agree - a big part of it was an opportunity for the kids to learn how to put on a show. They rehearsed for weeks. Also, since this preschool is also daycare for a lot of these kids from infancy, I think the teachers wanted a way to formally say goodbye to kids they've come to know quite well. Also, 4-5 year-olds are adorable when they participate in ceremonies.

  • Almanian||

    Oh, one other thing. That picture?

    RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACIST!!

  • ||

    I thought it was a screen grab from one of The Impregnator's early campaign videos.

  • Kroneborge||

    Agreed, you graduate HS, you graduate college. Anything below that is BS.

  • ||

    Jefferson Davis highway? I don't think we're in California anymore, Toto.

  • Natural Crystal Jewelry||

    Agreed, kiss me? I am sorry... pity...

  • Cheap Crystal Jewelry||

    Education does not mean the ability! you know...

  • قبلة الوداع||

    ThaNk U

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