Willy Russell’s play, Educating Rita is over three decades old. Reminiscent of the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion, more popularly known by its musical rendition, My Fair Lady, the play tells the tale of a woman on a mission to discover herself. Fortunately, the subject matter still manages to resonate with its current day audience.
In the Peter’s Alley Theatre production, this play is presented in all its simplicity, relying on the actors to entertain with the material’s fast paced, witty dialogue. The set consists of one room for the whole of the show and E-hui Woo did an excellent job of creating an easy, open space to stand as the office in a University, where the metamorphosis of the uneducated working class Rita transpires. Similarly, the subtle costume design of Alyson B. Ettman works well to illustrate the stages of Rita’s transformation.
Chelsea Mayo, as Rita, the Liverpudlian hairdresser on a mission to reinvent herself through education, heartily delivers the exuberance required to engage the stodgy, drunken professor, played by Dexter Hamlett. The chemistry between the performers is unquestionable from the first scene. Ms. Mayo plays Rita with an ease and charm that endears the audience to her from the moment she enters the room. She floats around freely taking in as much as she can in every moment and her energy captivates Frank, a middle-aged professor who has admittedly taken the job as a tutor merely to cover the cost of his drink.
The unlikely pair traverses the path toward Rita’s enlightenment together, each encountering their own highs and lows which, with the direction of Alyson B. Ettman, translates into a sort of dance where the partners often switch the lead. Their journey may not be unique, but it is the execution of the material which makes this production so magnificent. The show maintains a fast pace that never relinquishes the audience’s focus.
Dexter Hamlett imbues Frank with a beautiful balance of subdued brilliance and defeat, which most notably is seen when Frank is attempting to describe to Rita the difference between what can be called tragic and what is a tragedy. The moment captures both characters perfectly, with Rita’s desperation to know and understand complimenting Frank’s passion of knowledge and literature.
Will Russell’s dialogue is littered with quick quips and banter to offer many a laugh, even in the most serious of moments. What this play lacks in uniqueness it makes up in cleverness and heart. The story of Educating Rita is relatable to anyone who has ever sought to grow or change. Coupled with the realness of the actors’ performances, their journey is not one to be missed.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
Educating Rita plays through October 25, 2015 at Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions performing at Theatre on the Run – 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, buy them at the door with cash and/or a check, or purchase them online.
‘Educating Rita’: Peter’s Alley brings Willy Russell’s Award-Winning Comedy To Arlington by Alyson Ettman.