The best thing that can be said about "The Primary English Class," the Source Theatre's current offering, is that director Diane Malone somehow has been able to assemble a cast of people who speak French, Italian, Polish, German, Chinese and Japanese convincingly.
Otherwise, Israel Horovitz's 1976 work about the chaos, emotional and otherwise, that surfaces among a group of people who cannot speak each other's languages is as entertaining as a fingernail on a blackboard. It is basically a one-joke show, set in a night-school class to teach foreigners English, embroidered with the neurotic raving of the young woman teacher. Late in the play she reveals that the reason she is crazy is because she was raped twice in one night -- the second time by a man she had appealed to for help. Although this production does not play the scene totally for laughs, it seems that the playwright thought this was quite a funny incident.
Meanwhile she shrieks and yells, gobbles tranquilizers and resorts to directing her adult foreign students with physical force. She is clearly incompetent at teaching, and probably everything else. Horovitz's idea of a running gag is to have her remove the glasses of the German student, rendering him virtually blind as well as hard of hearing, and drive him to the brink of madness as he tries for most of the first act to get them back. His pain is all too evident, and her refusal to understand this simple need goes beyond my ability to suspend disbelief and enters the realm of audience agony.
Barbara Jones brings a good deal of energy and some wry humor to the role of the frenzied teacher, but not the charm necessary to make this desperate character bearable. The class members make a good effort at creating distinct characters. Unfortunately these efforts are not enough to rescue a poorly conceived play and an uninspired production.
"THE PRIMARY ENGLISH CLASS, by Israel Horovitz. Directed by Diane Malone; set by Bart Whiteman and Liz Harris; lighting by Geoffrey L. Grob; with Boguslaw Jerke, Sergio Johnson, Henry Canaday, Charles Lippman, Larry Lerer, Mei-Jong Hung, Susan Azeka and Barbara Jones.
At the Source Theatre through Nov. 20.