Barry Germansky’s new dystopic play The Answer-Killing Question Buys a Crisis criticizes the authoritarian system of education that exists to uphold the status quo and homogenize the human experience. In this satire, a totalitarian alternative reality forces students and teachers alike to accept only one truth, the “one story” that answers any question, any challenge to society. The classroom serves not as a safe space to explore foreign ideas or promote self-discovery, but rather to obediently learn a highly-censored, streamlined curriculum.
It’s an important critique that has been explored in many a dystopic novel and film, a la Fahrenheit 451, 1984, even Ayn Rand. Unfortunately, The Answer-Killing Question doesn’t present us with any new perspectives on this trend. Its plot is far too generic, its character more like allegorical tropes than individuals. Andrew (Rafa Perez) is the university student fighting the system, but what his stake in the battle is, besides having thought of these ideas in the first place, is never clear. His friendship with Conrad (Damon Trammell) is tested when a professor (Matt Tracy) sets out to destroy Andrew’s anarchy. Their world remains unnecessarily non-specific throughout the play, so that we’re never quite sure what Andrew is fighting against or what the repercussions for his actions are. The only part of the play where the university actually appears threatening is when the professor demands that certain students have sex with each other in the middle of the classroom. What this action is supposed to represent or how the professor’s class is supposed to benefit from it is never exactly explained.
As someone with an background in public and university education, I know that there is certainly plenty of discussion in the educational community about these same ideas that Germansky presents. The classroom structure has radically changed over the last few decades to emphasize student-centered learning, honoring discovery and experimentation over rigid, changeless lecturing. Education will always perpetuate its culture’s ideas and values. A second grade classroom in Texas will always look different than a second grade classroom in New York City. But I’m surprised that the play doesn’t choose to highlight other increasingly relevant issues in education, such as testing, student debt, or college alternatives.
The Answer-Killing Question Buys a Crisis plays at the Producers Club through October 26. Click here for tickets.