It's a risky business, portraying not only the white-bread schoolteacher you are but also two of your most problematic inner-city pupils. But as the poetic, love-starved Jasmine and the tough-talking would-be gang member Anthony, actor-author Jack Freiberger offers detailed, rounded portraits and gracefully evades the P.C. police in his one-man autobiographical show They Call Me Mister Fry.
In this To Sir, With Love-style narrative, set in an awful South Central L.A. grade school, Freiberger goes through the predictable stages of innocence ("It's got to be safe. Look at all the police here!"), frustration, anger, and despair, eventually reaching through to his hard-bitten 11-year-olds. Too bad he never strays far from the accepted path of such challenged-teacher stories, telling his tale through a rather narrow lens. It would be good to know more about some of the other kids in class, what the teaching conditions were like, and how much of the actual curriculum he was able to convey.
Still, it's a touching story, and Freiberger is a personable tour guide. And his other characterizations — the by-the-book principal, an intimidating colleague, the students' down-and-out parents and guardians — are uniformly excellent.
Presented by Sew & Sew Productions as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center's Milagro Theater, 107 Suffolk St., NYC. Aug. 13-20. Remaining performances: Sat., Aug 16, 3 p.m.; Mon., Aug. 18, 3 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 20, 9:15 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 22, 9:45 p.m. (212) 279-4488 or (866) 468-7619 or www.fringenyc.org.