Directed by Richard Corley
Produced by Shattered Globe Theatre 2.0
At Chicago Dramatists
Wordy and slowly paced mentor-student work crepes on
Educating Rita, Willy Russell’s 1980 drama is the story of a brash, young hairdresser from Liverpool, hungry to improve her lot by becoming educated, cultured and sophisticated. Rita (Whitney White) enrolls in a once-a-week open university course mentored by Dr. Frank Bryant (Brad Woodard) – an alcoholic frustrated poet who teaches to feed his drinking habit.
Rita discovers a passion for literature and her nagging and cajoling of Frank turns his life upside down. In a series of long scenes that moved slowly, we see Rita wearing a new dress on every session at the professor’s office grows amazingly fast both in her knowledge of literature and her sophistication as an ‘educated’ person. In this sort of My Fair Lady scenario, we see the two polar opposites eventually spark a deeper relationship than merely a student-teacher relationship. We see Rita grow as a person while Frank’s world is ruled by personal loathing fueled by whiskey. We see miraculously how Rita becomes an intellectual by only attending a once per week mentoring in only a year. She sure is a fast learner.
The show moves slowly as it is filled with references to major works of English literature that fuels Rita’s newly found intellectual freedom as she move up from a working class environment to the intellectual world of the intelligentsia.
The production doesn’t cover new grown and it is filled with too many British references. The curious casting choices marred the production as Brad Woodard, despite a hooky gray wig, is much too young to be believable as a middle aged professor. With all the talented middle aged actors in Chicago, surly director Richard Corley could have found someone more age appropriate to play Frank. And Whitney White struggles with both her Liverpool accent and her newly acquired high English accent. She took a while to warm to her role.
I believe that the too long 90 minute first act could be trimmed by a few minutes. But there isn’t much to be done about Russell’s trite and predictable script. The shows plays like something we have seen before.
At Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-236-0764,www.shatteredglobe.org, tickets $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, thru August 14, 2011