The desire to learn more is a complicated thing. You’re motivated by the wish to feel smarter, like the people you look up to for all sorts of subjects. But it is difficult to learn new things, because it often brings up new complications and more questions. There’s also pressure from society; if you differ too far from your friends’ issues you’re labeled a hipster or weirdo, and then feel embarrassed at simply wanting to learn something new. These themes and more are expanded on in the fabulous Educating Rita, which just opened up presented by PICT Classic Theatre.
Educating Rita is a two-person piece about an odd but important student-tutor relationship. It is England in 1970 and hairdresser Rita is seeking to expand her horizons by learning “everything” from English Lit professor Frank. Since she works during the day, Rita takes private evening tutoring sessions from Frank, where they discuss literature, society, and their personal lives. At age 26 Rita has found that she is bored with her husband and her clients at the hair salon. She finds that they’re talking about “nothing”, people who think having choices means “having multiple beers to pick from at the pub.”
At first the play feels like it could be a bland “Odd Couple” piece; “he’s a stuffy professor, she’s an eccentric blue collar, ahh!” But as the characters begin discussing it’s clear this is so much more than that. Rita doesn’t think everyone around her is stupid; she just wants to learn about more things, to have different topics to talk about instead of what she always talks about. Even more frustrating is that nobody understands her desires for this “education” or why she doesn’t want to just settle down and start having children.
A good two-man show takes an argument and dissects it, bringing up multiple points between its two characters and demonstrating that many questions do not have black or white answers. While action-wise Rita is two people talking in an office, the conversation is SO good and fascinating to listen to. Willy Russel’s script is very well-written, bringing a voice to concerns that are often hard to explain. Rita craves the “culture” she thinks her life is missing, whereas Frank finds said culture just as shallow and superficial as the life she wants to leave. It’s a complicated dialogue to have, but it’s great to watch.
PICT regulars Karen Baum and Martin Giles do great work in their roles, bringing full characters to the conversation. Their relationship grows strong and makes interesting developments as it goes on. They argue with each other, they confide secrets, they drink, they smoke, they lightly flirt (though the relationship never reaches a sexual nature). You want Rita to succeed in her goal but, as she learns, there are many complications. In one scene Rita confesses she can no longer talk to her “blue-collar” colleagues, but also is embarrassed to speak to Frank’s more “cultured” friends. She says she feels like an alien, and her pain is relatable and heartbreaking.
Alright, so maybe I’m biased. Maybe I really enjoyed Educating Rita because it talks about things I talk about in therapy. But still I think that’s a good reason to like it, and I think everyone could benefit from seeing the production PICT has put on. At intermission people actually broke into conversation about the play, comparing it to Pygmalion (which I understand, but don’t totally agree with) and talking about the themes. That is something I don’t always get to hear at intermissions, so it was a welcome change. But don’t worry, after the lights went up the woman next to me said to her husband “Well, I guess that means it’s intermission.” so I still got my daily dose of “unnecessary things to say.”
So yes, go see Educating Rita. Just make sure you’re listening.
Presented by PICT Classic Theatre
Directed by Alan Standford
Written by Willy Russell
Designed by Alan Standford (scenery), Michael Montgomery (costumes), Andrew David Ostrowski(lighting), Elizabeth Atkinson (sound)
Starring Karen Baum (Rita) and Martin Giles (Frank)
The show runs until September 19th. Tickets can be purchased here.
Performance Date: Saturday, September 5, 2015