Wasted has a fabulous concept. There is a nameless genre of theater I am fond of, in which a show presents a condensed version of a huge topic, like the history of America or lessons in Western literature. Wasted is subtitled The History of Public Education in the United States and How It Got That Way, which heightened my expectations. I guess that was my mistake.
Playwright Michael Goodfriend, working from a concept by Jim Niesen and the Irondale Ensemble, constructed his play as a film noir. The beginning introduces us to private detective Sam Slate, who is hired to find Jimmy, a missing schoolboy, and investigate the ominous Big Red Schoolhouse.
Private detective? Missing people? Ominous? Huh?
It was a trick, you see. In the subtitle, the word "history" is crossed out, and "mystery" is substituted instead. In fact, Wasted matches the plot of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep pretty much point for point, right down to the retired military man who is the detective's client and the blond femme fatale.
So Sam Slate asks some questions around the Big Red Schoolhouse, which is actually a bizarre mishmash of every education figure and concept of the last century. John Dewey, founder of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, is there, along with teachers from segregated classrooms and the author of the "Dick and Jane" readers. Heck, there's even a phrenologist.
There are villains, too, who usually represent businessmen who have sinister intentions toward the school and mutter ominous phrases like "No child left behind!" while cackling with glee. (I couldn't tell you what their intentions are, because they're never really made clear