“Office Hour” is a play that makes you question reality, exploding a moment and its infinite possibilities. It made me question my own life, and the connections, choices and chances that have whittled out my one path from all the branching options. I am grateful that nothing in my life approaches the severity of the content in this play, but I can still delve into these juicy questions:
- When is a time that someone reaching out made a difference for you?
- Has someone ever given or denied you the benefit of the doubt in a way that impacted your life?
- Do you think you could be as brave as Gina?
Just before sixth grade, my family moved from San Francisco to New Hampshire. That first lonely summer, my sister and I often walked to the public beach at the lake and I’ll never forget the one day when a girl my age asked me out of nowhere if I wanted to play frisbee. Kelley became my first friend in a new place and my best friend over many years. Making such a huge move, both geographically and culturally, was easier for me, partly because of Kelley, who reached out to the strange new girl at the lake.
Years later, when I told my high school calculus teacher that I wanted to join the AP section he responded, “I think you and I both know that would be like climbing Mt. Everest.” I walked away, confused and stunned. I was a solid math student and I enjoyed the work. How could he be so sure of my failure? As angry as I am that my teacher didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt, I am mystified that I didn’t give myself more credit and fight to be included in that class.
My senior year of college, I found myself in front of a class of students teaching a demo lesson during a job interview. It was the first time I’d ever actually taught. And yet, instead of looking at the experience I lacked, my administrator looked at what I had: a steady job history, an excellent academic record at an excellent school, and a better demo lesson than other experienced candidates. He said, “This is someone who is smart, knows how to work, and clearly has a rapport with kids. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.” With today’s competitive job market, I doubt I would get that kind of chance again. I’m glad I got it when I did.
One of the scariest parts of “Office Hour” is the uncertainty around whether the troubled student, Dennis (Daniel Chung), is a shooter or not. Does Dennis deserve the benefit of the doubt? He is brooding and silent, but unlike in previous shows this season, his silence is not a blank canvas of possibility. Instead, it is a blockade, a gulf. We worry about his teacher, Gina (Jackie Chung), scared for what could happen. And yet, Gina sends out a tenuous thread of connection across that gulf and attempts to walk it like a tightrope to the other side.
Like in “The Chosen,” Gina and Dennis share a common culture, but experience it so differently. Only in “Office Hour,” the divide is so much greater, widened by fear and the possibility of harm. Widened by the fact that this iffy connection could be the only chance for salvation. Why is it so much harder to reach out to someone in so much need? To someone who is so raw with pain? It’s natural to want to recoil, but Gina shows us instead to be brave and to reach out. Could I be as brave as she was if someone needed me as badly? I have no idea, honestly. The only answer I can give is: God, I hope so.
Leah Andelsmith is a writer living in New Haven. She loves the arts and finding magic in the everyday. This is her first season as a community ambassador for Long Wharf Theatre. You can find her on Facebook: facebook.com/leahandelsmith and on her website: leahandelsmith.wixsite.com/website.