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PLOT SUMMARY
(Few spoilers)

Unwritten Rules explores the social, professional, and family lives of high school teachers. The musical tells the story of Alex Tucker, a student teacher who falls in love with his supervising teacher. His colleagues include Daniel Walker, a math teacher who has become skeptical of how relevant his curriculum actually is to the futures of his students, and Mr. and Mrs. Wellerstein, a couple who find their marriage in turbulence after their daughter is caught cheating in their class. A musical drama/comedy that asks questions about the ways rules affect us.

The action takes place in a public high school, and features five teachers, a student teacher, the assistant principal, and the schoolís head custodian. The story concerns three storylines that become intertwined as the plot progresses.

The Romantic Storyline Ė Student teacher Alex Tucker falls in love with his supervising teacher, Christine Williams. Although such a relationship is against the rules, they decide to pursue it anyway. When the assistant principal Dr. Barker forbids it to continue, they must decide how much they are willing to risk to continue seeing each other.

The Comedic Storyline Ė
Mr. and Mrs. Wellerstein are teachers who, despite being married for 20 years, are as having serious problems in their marriage. Their marriage has become completely about their work, with most of their nights consisting of staying at school late to grade papers. Their problems are exacerbated when their daughter is caught cheating in their class, and they must decide whether to report it to Dr. Barker, as the rulebook states, or to give their daughter another chance.

The Dramatic Storyline Ė Mr. Walker has taught calculus and trigonometry every day for the past 19 years, and is starting to wonder how useful these subjects really are to the futures of his students. After finding out one day that his students do not know how to do everyday tasks such as tying a tie, but can recite the quadratic equation perfectly, he stops teaching math and starts teaching things that he believes will be more directly useful to their lives. When he refuses to go back to teaching the assigned curriculum, Dr. Barker threatens to fire him. Mr. Walker must decide whether he will give in to Dr. Barkerís demands or continue on the path that he feels is right.

In each storyline, the rules are preventing the characters from doing something they believe to be right. Dr. Barker, the Assistant Principal, is adamant about the rules and will not tolerate teachers who break the rules for any reason. But there is more to Dr. Barker than meets the eye; something in his past has made him the way he is, and if the teachers want Dr. Barker to see things their way, they will first have to discover the secret of his past.
 

 

 

COMPLETE SYNOPSIS
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

UNWRITTEN RULES explores the social, professional, and family lives of high school teachers. The musical takes place in a public high school and features five teachers, a student teacher, the assistant principal, and the schoolís head custodian.

Act I begins with the main characters expressing their anxieties about the coming year. (Prologue) We meet Alex Tucker, a student teacher who is excited to finally be doing his student teaching, but who is also very nervous about the various perks that come with being a teacher. (What Iíve Learned So Far) We are then introduced to Daniel Walker, a respected long-time math teacher who is less than excited about starting the school year and teaching kids who dread coming to his class. (Monday)

Mr. Tucker meets his cooperating teacher, Christine Williams. Expecting the worst, he is pleasantly surprised to find that Mrs. Williams is very friendly and sympathetic to his anxieties about starting the job. We then meet John and Joan Wellerstein, a married couple who teach science and social studies, respectively. Teaching full time has torn them apart from each other and their kids. As they are spending another late night at school grading papers, they comment that their marriage is now almost completely about work. (Making it Work)

The scene shifts to Mr. Tucker, who has just taught his first lesson on Romeo and Juliet. After class, Mrs. Williams comments that she has never seen another student teacher that could interest high school students in Shakespeare. She asks him to dinner to help him prepare his lesson plan tomorrow, and then gives him a friendly kiss on the cheek, which takes him by surprise.

The next day, Mr. Tucker is approached in the cafeteria by Avery Mann, the schoolís head custodian. Mr. Mann knows everything about everyone, having worked at the school longer than anyone else. He reveals that Mrs. Williamsí husband died recently, and that she has become a different person ever since his death.

Mr. Wellerstein discovers that his daughter, Annie (whom both he and his wife have in class) plagiarized an essay for his class. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wellerstein finds a note on her husbandís desk that makes her suspect him of having an affair with a French teacher, Claire Femme. The Wellersteins, both upset with their situations, sing about how they donít know how to respond to their cheating husband/daughter. (The Cheating Ballad)

Meanwhile, Mr. Tucker and Mrs. Williams have fallen in love, even though they both know it is wrong and even inappropriate, given their professional relationship. Mrs. Williams says that ďlife is too shortĒ not to pursue who you love, referring to the death of her husband. Mr. Tucker, however, is apprehensive, especially given that he has just ended a serious relationship with an ex-girlfriend. As she kisses him on the cheek, they are walked in on by Todd Barker, the assistant principal, who talks to Mrs. Williams and tells her that any romantic interest in her student teacher is unacceptable.

We see Mr. Walker teaching a lesson to his trigonometry class. A student enters late, having had trouble figuring out how to tie his tie. Mr. Walker is struck by the realization that he is teaching his students trigonometry when many of them do not know how to do something as simple as tying a tie. Furthering this realization, he asks students various questions and finds that they lack basic life skills, yet can recite the quadratic formula perfectly. He decides to change his curriculum and teach his students things that he believes will be more directly useful to their lives than calculus and trigonometry. (How to Tie a Tie)

Mr. Tucker and Mrs. Williams decide that they should pursue their relationship further, despite it being against the rules, and despite both coming from serious relationships. (Time and Time Again) Mr. Wellerstein goes to Mme. Femmeís office to ask advice on his marital problems. We meet Mme. Femme, an eccentric French teacher who helps Mr. Wellerstein with all his relationship troubles, unbeknownst to Mrs. Wellerstein.

Dr. Barker calls Mr. Walker into his office to tell him that he may not stop teaching the required curriculum. Mr. Walker argues that the required curriculum will not be nearly as useful to his students as the things he is now teaching. He also expresses contempt that the school system has put most of the focus on grades and test scores, rather than actual learning. Dr. Barker explains that rules must be followed under all circumstances, because rules are what keep progress and order in the school. (Practice What They Teach) He next calls the Wellersteins to his office. A parent-teacher conference is required in any case of academic dishonesty, and so in this case, Mrs. Wellerstein is the parent and Mr. Wellerstein is the teacher. The Wellersteins defend her daughter, saying that Dr. Barker has no right to make parenting decisions for them.

At the end of the act, the teachers all find themselves in the same situation. Dr. Barker and his rules are preventing them from doing something they believe is morally right. They decide that in this case, it is more important to follow their instincts than to blindly follow the rules. (The Rules Were Meant to be Broken)

Act II begins immediately after winter break. The teachers all face heightened conflicts as the second semester begins and they begin their rebellion against Dr. Barker and the rules. Dr. Barker calls Mr. Walker into his office and tells him that he is going through the process of firing him. Because he has tenure, there will need to be a school board hearing before Mr. Walker can be fired. Mr. Walker does not take the news well, but refuses to give in to Dr. Barkerís demands.

The Wellersteins have seen further downfall in their daughter. Not only are her grades slipping in every class, but she is beginning to surround herself with bad influences. The Wellersteins, afraid that she will not achieve the big college dreams they have for her, inflate her grades, even though she does not deserve them. Mr. Wellerstein is apprehensive about this, maintaining that preparing for college admissions is Annieís responsibility, and that it is wrong to give her an unfair advantage.

After hearing the news that Mr. Walker will be fired, Mr. Tucker tries to call the other teachers to arms. He tries to persuade them to support Mr. Walker and speak out at his hearing. The other teachers, however, are backing down, saying that publicly criticizing Dr. Barker would be too risky. Mrs. Williams confronts Mr. Tucker privately with the news that she has gotten a cease-and-desist letter from Dr. Barker. Realizing that her choice is between Mr. Tucker and her livelihood, she reluctantly ends their relationship. (My Secret Wish For You)

Valentineís Day arrives, and Mr. Wellerstein has characteristically blanked out and forgotten to get anything for his wife. She storms out of the room, extremely frustrated with him. We see that Mr. Tucker has been reassigned to a different cooperating teacher, and is still heartbroken about Mrs. Williams. Mr. Tucker and Mrs. Williams sing about how they still love each other, even though their relationship cannot be. (Helpless for You) Meanwhile, it is revealed to Mrs. Wellerstein that her husband was not cheating at all, but rather seeking marital advice from Mme. Femme.

We see the Wellersteinsí 20th anniversary. Mr. Wellerstein takes her to the place where they first met, but it is soon revealed that they remember the events of their first meeting very differently. (Another Anniversary) Despite his good intentions, the anniversary is a disaster. Later, Mrs. Wellerstein complains to Mme. Femme about how men can never seem to do anything right. (Nothing More Annoying)

Mr. Tucker tries one last time to convince the teachers to stand up in Mr. Walkerís name. Mr. Mann informs the teachers that that would definitely jeopardize their jobs by doing so, and as a result, all except Mr. Tucker choose to give up. Mr. Tucker asks Mr. Mann why he is the only one who isnít afraid of Dr. Barker, and it is revealed that Mr. Mann knows a secret that explains why Dr. Barker is the way he is. Mr. Tucker stays up into the early hours of the morning, trying to decide whether to speak at Mr. Walkerís hearing. Although he knows it isnít necessarily his fight, he feels loyal to Mr. Walker and feels that he must speak up, even if only to show the other teachers that they were wrong to give up. (Iíve Come This Far)

At the hearing, both Mr. Walker and Mr. Tucker speak for the defense, but it is irrelevant. (If I Never Teach Again) The board of education unanimously decides to fire Mr. Walker, and a dejected Mr. Tucker is left to face Mrs. Williams, who tries to make amends. Mr. Tucker becomes angry with Mrs. Williams, saying that this hearing should have shown her that her choice to give up was wrong. He leaves, and Mrs. Williams realizes that he was right all along. She now knows that she should never have let him go, and that following her heart is more important than following the rules, no matter what the cost. (You Never Had to Prove Yourself to Me)

Mr. Tucker confronts Mme. Femme to find out what Dr. Barkerís secret is. She is the only one who can tell him, since Mr. Mann will not break his vow of secrecy. She reveals that Dr. Barker was her student teacher, and that they fell in love but were not allowed to continue their relationship, exactly like Mr. Tucker and Mrs. Williams. Dr. Barker never got over this loss, and became a cold-blooded assistant principal in response to not being shown any mercy himself.

The Wellersteins are faced with yet another example of Annie misbehaving in school. They realize that to get her to stop cheating, they have to set the example and treat her the way they would treat any other student. They also realize that she is misbehaving to get their attention, because they are always so occupied with their work that they never have time for her. They vow to spend more time with her, but to be careful not to protect her or shelter her. In this way, she is growing on her own, but with the needed support of her parents. Mrs. Wellerstein laments that being a good parent and a good person is much harder than being a good teacher, because the rules are not as clearly defined.

Mr. Tucker confronts Dr. Barker with the knowledge of his past, but he angrily kicks Mr. Tucker out of his office, not able to deal with his own hypocrisy. Dr. Barker reveals that Mrs. Williams has quit her job to be with Mr. Tucker. Dr. Barker, now struggling with his own internal feelings, realizes that out of spite, he has become the kind of leader that he swore he would never be. (Half the Man I Am) Mr. Mann rushes into his office, asking desperately for a favor. He needs Dr. Barker to lie to the Principal so that Mr. Mann can keep his job. Amazingly, he does, wanting to repay Mr. Mannís longtime loyalty. By defying the rules, Dr. Barker shows understanding that there are times when it is necessary to disobey the rules. To further his newfound understanding, he decides to give Mr. Tucker and Mrs. Williams the second chance that nobody ever gave him, by rehiring them both and letting them pursue their relationship, as long as it does not interfere with their professional lives. It is revealed that Mr. Mann and Mme Femme are married, and that the secret to their marital success is the separation between their personal and professional lives.

The characters sing the finale, a message that the power of morals and love can and should transcend the boundaries of rules. They also sing about the power of caring for the future, and learning to separate their personal and professional lives. In this manner, they are learning to live beyond their written and unwritten limits. (Beyond These Walls)