Educating Rita is Life, Literature, a Smash

  • 10/03/2014
  • Reporters Desk

 

By John Farrell

Educating Rita was written by playwright Willie Russell more than three decades ago and turned into a movie.

You might expect it to be a bit stale, but in the hands of director James Rice and the two brilliant actors he has cast for the production at Little Fish Theatre, it is a delight. It is both a story about human aspirations and expectations. It is about life that is lived in the mind as well as in the pub.

Frank, the grizzled and alcoholic college professor who is slowly drinking his life away and Rita, the 25-year-old would-be student who wants to learn everything to get out of her uncultured life. 

David Graham is Frank, a slightly paunchy, slightly graying man in sweater vests who keeps bottles of alcohol hidden behind the books in his extensive library. His British accent is perfect; his defeated life is evident from the alcohol and the fact, slowly revealed in the play, that he is a minor, very minor, poet who has resigned himself to academic suicide of a sort. He grades papers and gives lectures and tutorials, lives with a woman who took him in after his wife left him and pretty much has given up on life, — though his mind is still sharp and his tongue witty and even occasionally biting.

Into his office comes Rita (the astonishing, dynamic and exciting Rebecca Reaney) a young woman who loves a book by Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle, and has decided she wants more from her life than working as a hairdresser and spending nights at the pub. Reaney is dynamic, exceptionally attractive and she has no trouble with the British accent — she is British. But it is more than just the accent that keeps your attention and it’s more than just her slow climb out of her limited life to academic success that captivates. Reaney dominates the stage with her personality from the moment she arrives in Frank’s bookish office, trying to change her life when all her friends and family, even her husband. She wants no more for her or themselves than a few pints and a familiar song.

Reaney’s delightful Rita might well have overpowered a lesser Frank, an actor unwilling or unable to handle her power in the role, but Graham has no trouble with Rita. She has tremendous energy and enthusiasm; he is a bit burned out, but when it comes to talking about life, about literature, he is every bit as articulate as she. Reaney is the power of young life trying to fulfill itself, Graham, a Little Fish veteran, may be playing a character always a little drunk, but he matches her excitement with his own at finding a student who actually wants to learn, who experiences Shakespeare for the first time and transmits her enthusiasm to him when he has little enthusiasm left.

This is a play to savor. Performances are delightful, even thrilling, close up and about as personal as the theater can be. See it once, even twice. Learn something about life.

Tickets are $22 and $20 for seniors. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m., with one Sunday matinee Oct. 19 at 2 p.m.

Details: (310) 512-6030; www.littlefishtheatre.org

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