Thoughts & Musings

Take a Chance on EDUCATING RITA at 2nd Story Theatre

This very funny play questions the value of education, the possibility of change, and whether or not a good haircut can make a good ending. Go see it.

by Larry O'Brien, Broadwayworld.com
  • 12th May 201612/05/16
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EDUCATING RITA by Willy Russell is running at 2nd Story Theatre at 28 Market St. in Warren until May 22. Ed Shea plays Frank, the jaded, just-this-side-of washed-out, alcoholic professor; and Tammy Brown plays Rita, a hairdresser who wants more out of life, who wants not simply a change in circumstances, but, as she says twice in the play, “the change in yourself.” Rita wants to know, “what’s it like to be free?” If Frank ever knew, he has forgotten. Over the course of the very enjoyable two hours, they each get to look at what they know and to decide what must stay and what has to go. This play reminds you of Shaw’s Pygmalion: the young woman comes to the older man seeking knowledge that can transform her life. Henry Higgins is more confidant then Frank in the value of what he has to offer, but Rita, whose real name turns out to be Susan, is every bit as convinced of its worth as Eliza Doolittle ever was.

Russell’s play is a series of short scenes all happening in the academic’s office (I’ve been in a number of academics’ offices, and they never looked this good). Each actor has some very funny lines to deliver, and each, well, delivers. I have seen Ed Shea perform dozens of times and he always gives a true reading; I had never seen Tammy Brown before, and she was just as good. The fact that Brown is a woman of color and Shea a Caucasian added to our sense of her as an outsider and him as an insider.

Ron Cesario’s costumes are nearly a character in the play. Between scenes we get to watch Shea change his tie or his sweater or his jacket, while Brown is making complete wardrobe changes off-stage. The changes for Brown reflect the degree to which her character is changing, while Shea’s demonstrate how much Frank is staying the same. During the changes, the audience got to listen to various versions of the Gene DePaul-Sammy Cahn pop standard, “Teach Me Tonight.” While the frequent scene changes made the show feel a little choppy, director Mark Peckham’s choice of music eased the transitions.

EDUCATING RITA is performed in the round and Max Ponticelli’s set looked just like a professor’s office SHOULD look like: shelves and shelves of the Great Books hiding the occasional flask, overstuffed leather chairs, and a gorgeous oriental carpet. Maybe in England. This very funny play questions the value of education, the possibility of change, and whether or not a good haircut can make a good ending. Go see it.

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