- I love two-character plays if they’re well directed, well
acted and well written. All three of these ingredients are
present in Renaissance Theatreworks’ present production of
Willy Russell’s endearing, provocative and entertaining
play, “Educating Rita.”
This is a
work with a strong theme. It questions the nature and value of
an education, always a controversial topic. You may have seen
the movie with Michael Caine and Julie Walters or another of
Russell’s most popular plays, “Shirley Valentine.” In
both, he has created durable, memorable women who are not
willing to accept the roles society has assigned them.
involves Rita, a young married beautician of 26, and a jaded
literature professor-poet-alcoholic in his 50s. Frank has
agreed reluctantly to tutor Rita in the evenings, when he’d
much rather be at the pub. But he needs the money, and she has
a strong desire to be educated.
process of introducing Rita to some of the typical
“classics,” Frank is confronted with her blatantly honest
reactions, something he is not accustomed to. She is not one
to capitulate to someone else’s notion of what is good or
what is relevant. She
questions, she explores and she pushes, shaking him out of his
boredom and complacency, his academic and personal rut. After
watching their interactions over time, we wonder who is
What is so
fascinating about this play is not only the questions it
raises, but also the chemistry between the two characters.
Jonathan Smoots and Cristina Panfilio have an ease with each
other, and even in their sparring, seem never to lose their
affection and respect and curiosity in their efforts at
ways, Rita is like a child when they first meet but ends up
wiser than her teacher as the play ends. I was reminded a bit
of “Collected Stories,” a recent Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
offering, where the teacher experiences a similar loss after
her student no longer needs her.
gives a nuanced performance as the teacher who hides his
bottles of scotch behind the fa¨ade of his books, and as he
enlightens Rita, she enlightens him to other possibilities, as
play ends, we are confident that Rita is on her way to greater
awareness, confidence and fulfillment. Frank, on the other
hand, has been touched by an encounter with freshness,
sincerity and a worldly wisdom too seldom chanced upon in the
ivory tower of academia. Perhaps he, too, will find a new life
and let some air in his room and reopen his heart to life’s
richness and wonders.
the theater having been prodded and entertained by these two
very human characters. Kudos to director Jenny Wanasek, Steve
Barnes’ realistic set design, Paul Hurley for his
transitional music choices and the entire crew for producing
such an enjoyable experience for us.
Rita” runs with five performances a week through Feb. 10 in
the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N.
Broadway, Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call
414-291-7800 or visit www.r-t-w.com.