REVIEW – Educating Rita – California Theatre Center Summer Rep

I took in Educating Rita (the first play in California Theatre Center’s Summer Rep season) last week and found it mentally compatible and exceedingly amiable. The play which focuses on the evolution of a relationship between a British college student and her reluctant tutor was for me (as a double English/Drama major and “critic” on the side) nostalgic and mightily relatable.

At the core of the story (though there are a number interesting simultaneous subplots occurring) is the fundamental conundrum of being in the position to analyze and critique writing without allowing any personal, emotional, sentimental judgment to seep into that analysis. How to keep it Academic, if you will. It should shock no one that this concept was during school and let’s face it, may always be, a sizeable challenge for me. It is a fresh and ongoing argument I seem to have weekly, even if only with myself. Art should make you feel, should it not? Poetry should move, right? How is it you can comment on art and not let emotions play a part in that? Why not create art from art? When you learn to ignore or sequester that voice for the sake of pure criticism are you ever able to get it back? Such is one of the main through lines of this two person play and I loved the way it was explored through choice phrasing, literary references and overall high production values.

The shifts in passion and the articulation of that passion is intelligently structured in the writing as well as realistically performed by our cast of two. A single set, a warmly detailed office, overcomes the risk of being limiting, by the presence of such likeable, skilled performers and clever stage direction.

Our female lead is quite infectious and we don’t want to take our eyes off of her. We hang on her every word and aren’t even bothered by only partial costume changes (used to indicate time passage) she is so enjoyable. She is spunky, driven, engaging, funny and we GET her from the start. It’s easy to feel her kinetic energy all the way in the back of the house and she plays off her counterpart’s demeanor in lovely contrast. To be honest, I was a bit scared for some reason that we wouldn’t see much of an arch to the story or the characters. Their relationship seemed too quickly established, emotional cards placed on the table in scene one, but I was pleasantly surprised at all the levels that were ultimately touched upon when 2 ½ hours (with intermission) was all said and done.

The actor playing the male lead is one of the reasons I look forward to the CTC summer rep every year. He is pleasurable to watch in just about everything he does and is a talented storyteller. This is a particularly good role for him and I think over time, this is a show that will settle into an even better groove. The chemistry is quite nice now, but I wager it will get even tighter and more nuanced as the run goes on.

This is a charming and sweet play with some victorious intellectual meat to it and a lot of keep-you-on-your-toes fluctuation in mood and pacing. While you need to pay attention (accents and concepts at rapid fire require an alert approach to viewing) the show has copious humor, moments of gentle poignancy and serves up both entertainment and plenty post-show thought. 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a delightful and pensive piece which plays well to the strengths of this company. Educating Rita play in rep with The 39 Steps and The Tempest, through July 20th at the Sunnyvale Community Theater

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