EDUCATING RITA: Laughing at Learning

Jane Pfitsch as Rita in Educating Rita, by Willy Russell, directed by Maria Aitken at the Huntington Theatre Company, 3/10/11 Set Design Allen Moyer Costume Design Nancy Brennan Lighting Design Joel E. Silver © T Charles Erickson

Educating Rita by Willy Russell, Huntington Theatre Company, 3/11/11-4/10/11. Herbal cigarettes smoked during the show.

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

During my studies to become a teacher, I was told one of the movies that I should not see on education was Educating Rita.  I can understand some of the caution; I would not want to be a teacher like Frank, but the story does remind us of the pure joy of learning and the need for critical thinking.  Knowledge is more than expertise and understanding is more than results.  The Huntington’s production of Educating Rita reminds us that learning should not be at the cost of  of our individuality.

Being a perpetual student, Allen Moyer’s set had my “geeky sense” tingling–a room full of books and a sterile, air of pomposity–typical of a professor’s office.  The office also hides the desperate desire of Frank (played by Andrew Long) to pretend that he is still an academic although he has been jaded for years.  Life and renewed purpose enter Frank’s office in the form of Rita (played by Jane Pfitsch).  

Rita is a typical character of Willy Russell’s–a person who wishes to move outside of the firmly cemented caste of blue collar life.  She goes to see Frank as a part of the “open university” program in Britain.  Jane Pfitsch’s bubbling performance provides stark contrast to Andrew Long’s  choleric professor that only finds contentment in his next drink.  The energy from Pfitsch’s Rita is electric and flows to Frank and then into the audience.  Frank begins to hope (somewhat) as he gets what all teachers desire–a student who wants to learn.  They struggle between Rita’s desire to have a proper education and Frank’s desire to see Rita maintain her own individuality.  Pfitsch and Long’s dynamic connection provides the foundation for this heart-warming comedy.

Nancy Brennan’s costume design for Rita shows the transformation that Rita goes through; it also shows how Rita moves from one set of values to another without really focusing on herself.  Maria Aitken’s direction fully utilizes all aspects of the stage and keeps the episodic script fresh from scene to scene.

Albert Einstein said, “the only thing that interferes with my learning is my education”.  Learning is beautiful and life is beautiful; this production shows that one should not be sacrificed for the other.  TNETG.  3/16/11.


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