Sunday, October 14, 2012

New Theatre: Educating Rita (2 reviews)

New Theatre opened its production of Educating Rita at the Roxy Performing Arts Center on October 12, 2012.
In this sizzling award winning comedy, brash and free spirited hairdresser Rita enrolls at the local university and turns her boozy and burnt-out professor’s life upside down.
Stephen A Chambers directed Peter Haig and Dawn A.A. Plummer.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...Russell’s 1980 two-character play – better known for the 1983 film – is an incisive, funny and affecting work affirming the possibility of personal resurrection and redemption despite the artificial barriers of class, income and upbringing.

But all of that is fatally muted in the performances of Dawn A.A. Plummer and Peter Haig under Steven A. Chambers’ direction.
Haig is a mystery. It would be hard to imagine better casting. He has proven his skill and insight in a score of performances from his fresh take on the beloved dying teacher in Tuesdays With Morrie to his ethically-challenged patriarch in The Voysey Inheritance to the unlikeable curmudgeon in The Gin Game. We point these out because Haig seemed to be just walking through the first half of the show Sunday afternoon and only got incrementally better in the second half.
Plummer is more lively and endearing, although even she took a while to find her feet. But she came across as cartoonish rather than real until the last two scenes; we were always aware of her acting the role rather than being Rita.

What Plummer and Chambers do pull off believably is Rita’s gradual evolution, so that when Susan enters the office for the last time, we believe she is both a different person and yet the same person we met two and a half hours ago. She also deserves credit for a reasonably convincing accent
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Though Russell’s play is now more than three decades old, its dialogue and themes are timeless enough that director Steven A. Chambers is largely able to pull off setting Educating Rita in the present day.
Frank is supposed to be a wreck on the verge of a career-ending meltdown, but costume coordinator Antoinette Baldwin puts Haig in always-spiffy professor garb, and what is supposed to be his “shaggy” hair is a perfectly coiffed wig. Haig rails or blusters now and then, grimacing and grinning, but he doesn’t go all in with the condescending nastiness and jealous longing that complicate Frank’s character.

Plummer does a decent job with Rita’s Liverpudlian accent, and she’s a likeable presence who gets the audience rooting for Rita to succeed. But her often low-key rendition of Rita the hairdresser doesn’t allow for enough of a contrast with the educated, enlightened, bound-for-success Rita.
New Theatre presents Educating Rita at the Roxy Performing Arts Center through October 28, 2012.

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