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Theatre / Evelyn In Purgatory

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Evelyn in Purgatory is a dramatic comedy by Topher Payne. It won the 2012 Essential Theatre Playwriting Competition and was first produced in 2012 by The Essential Theatre Company in Atlanta, GA.

A claim of improper behavior by a failing student lands Evelyn Reid in the "rubber room", where she encounters other teachers who are also waiting for their cases to be reviewed. Some are guilty, some are not, and all have long since lost any hope of returning to a classroom. Based on the actual Reassignment Centers in the New York public school system, where teachers are sent after a complaint is filed against them.


Cast (in order of appearance):

  • Candace Metzger - The proctor responsible for taking attendance and answering the phone.
  • Lila Wadkins - An art teacher accused of insubordination.
  • Evelyn Reid - A history teacher accused of kissing a student.
  • Toby Fleming - A first-year science teacher accused of destruction of school property.
  • Fred DiSalvo - A gym teacher accused of breaking a student's wrist.
  • Roberta Burke - An older English teacher accused of using inappropriate language in front of students.
  • Ms. Atwood - The unseen head of the disciplinary panel.


This dramedy contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The play ends before we learn whether Lila actually testifies against Evelyn at her hearing, or what the results of Evelyn's hearing are.
  • Apathetic Teacher: Roberta has given up and figures she can stay in the "rubber room" until she retires at the end of the current academic year.
  • Book-Ends: At the beginning of the first scene, Lila and Evelyn are the only two teachers in the room. In the last scene, they are again the only two teachers in the room.
  • But I Can't Be Pregnant!: Candace was on the pill, and didn't realize that the antibiotics she was taking could make the pill ineffective.
  • Cool Teacher: Lila is the art teacher everyone wishes they had.
  • Disappeared Dad: Noah moved away before Candace discovered she was pregnant, and she never learned his last name.
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  • Dwindling Party: A non-fatal variant. The "Janitor's Closet" sign on the door keeps new teachers from joining the group, and the current members leave one by one when the teachers are called to their hearings, or when Candace gives birth to her baby.
  • The Faceless: The other members of the disciplinary panel are introduced by Ms. Atwood, but they are never seen or heard.
  • Foreshadowing: During the book club discussions of The Crucible, one person points out that Abigail was the only character with a chance for a happy ending.
  • Freudian Excuse: Toby figures out that Fred's arrogant behavior is triggered by his past, and Fred's statement to the disciplinary panel confirms it (but without giving the audience the full details about Fred Junior).
  • Friends with Benefits: Candace's relationship with Noah revolved around watching episodes of Lost, then having sex. She never even learned his last name.
  • Hidden Depths: Fred initially refuses to participate in the book club, but eventually interjects some thoughtful comments into the others' discussion of The Crucible.
  • Hippie Teacher: Lila turns out to be this once she opens up a bit.
  • History Repeats: Roberta's fifth hearing starts off almost exactly the same as her fourth hearing.
  • Insistent Terminology: Toby insists that he is a geek when Fred accuses him of being a sissy.
  • Inspired by...: The setting is based on the actual Reassignment Centers in the New York public school system.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Roberta and her late husband wanted children, but had been unable to conceive. Candace didn't want children and was on the pill, but got pregnant anyway.
  • Loophole Abuse: Teachers awaiting their disciplinary hearings are prohibited from contacting their students. Technically, they are not prohibited from contacting each others' students.
  • Manipulative Bitch: We discover that Evelyn is perfectly willing to blackmail and manipulate others to keep them from revealing the truth.
  • Morning Sickness: One of the signs Lila uses to figure out that Candace is pregnant.
  • Ms. Exposition: In the first scene, Lila plays this role, explaining how things work in the "rubber room" to Evelyn (and to the audience).
  • Naïve Newcomer: In the first scene, Evelyn plays this role, allowing Lila to explain how things work in the "rubber room".
  • One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Candace gives up coffee when she discovers she's pregnant. This is another sign Lila uses to figure out that Candace is pregnant.
  • Overly Long Name: During his statement to the disciplinary panel, Toby addresses one of the panel members as "Ms. Awkward Hyphenated Name".
  • Pants-Pulling Prank: Roberta's first complaint (and resultant hearing) came after she pulled down the saggy pants of a frustrating Class Clown who had written a joke answer on the board.
  • Proud to Be a Geek: Toby turns out to be this once he opens up a bit.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ms. Atwood and the other members of the disciplinary panel turn out to be this. Their rulings in the hearings of Roberta, Fred, and Toby are fair and appropriate, given the actual details of the situations.
  • The Reveal: There are several, as we learn more about each character.
  • Sadist Teacher: Fred is a gym teacher who comes across as a bully.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Toby accepts a job as a museum docent, where he can teach without the pointless BS required of school teachers, and then he gets called in for his hearing.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: The complaint against Evelyn.
  • Team Mom: Lila serves as the voice of calm reason in the group.
  • The Topic of Cancer: In addition to the direct toll cancer took on Roberta's late husband, the fact that the cancer could come back disqualified them from adopting. And then the cancer came back. Inverted when Candace chooses to give her child to a couple that hadn't been able to adopt because one of them is a cancer survivor.
  • We Help the Helpless: This turns out to be the trigger behind the complaint against Fred, who stepped in to defend a smaller boy against a couple jerk jocks.
  • World of Ham: In the second act, the teachers act out Toby's Science Fiction screenplay.
  • The Voice: Ms. Atwood, the head of the disciplinary panel, is heard during each hearing, but is never seen.


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