written by MICHAEL SOKOLOVE, Published: September 13, 2013
Harry S. Truman High School, set on a slight incline, is a monument to utility, neither inviting nor forbidding. Buffered on three sides by athletic fields, the school, in Levittown, Pa., rises to just one story. Its exterior is brick — not red but a dull yellow, the color of putty. Inside the front entrance, several trophy cases filled with pictures and other mementos commemorate mostly unsuccessful athletic teams, and a big bulletin board lists the colleges where the current seniors have been admitted. An energetic janitorial staff buffs the floors each afternoon to a high gloss. The classroom clocks tell the right time.
As school was ending one afternoon, I walked through the corridors to a far corner of the building and into the classroom of Lou Volpe, the school’s drama director, who four decades ago was my English teacher. His room was furnished with old couches and living-room chairs, donated stuff that otherwise might have gone to Goodwill or landfills. The bookshelves, windowsills, radiators and all other flat surfaces were piled high with anthologies of plays, copies of scripts and videotapes of Broadway productions. Several mobiles hung down from the ceiling, some low enough that a tall person would have to duck under them. As we talked, Volpe walked a circular route around the classroom, straightening and fluffing the upholstery on the couches and chairs, a ritual he performed numerous times a day, always in a clockwise direction.