What does it mean to get an education? When we hear the word, most of us picture the typical university lecture hall with a professor at the front sharing his or her wisdom, but there are other types of education to be had.
When Rita (Holly Lewis) shows up at Frank’s (Scott Bellis) university office wanting to “know everything,” it’s the beginning of a special relationship that has each of them learning more than they bargained for. Rita gushes about her favourite novel, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, and Frank tries to explain the merits of Faulkner and Blake.
Rita ends up as Frank’s student after enrolling in an Open University program where she visits a tutor once a week. Frank has never done this type of thing before, and he is not thrilled about the idea of an Open University — until Rita arrives. He immediately finds her fascinating and they both look forward to their weekly discussions about literature and the latest news from Rita’s job at the hair salon.
Written by Liverpudlian Willy Russell, I enjoyed the references to the city such as Rita complaining that people around her think they have freedom of choice because they can support Liverpool FC or Everton FC. Lewis’ Liverpool accent wasn’t quite right, but I think it’s a very difficult accent to imitate, and she at least kept it consistent throughout.
Set entirely in Frank’s office, the back of the stage was lined with floor to ceiling bookcases where Frank stashed all kinds of liquor. Scattered around the office were stacks of books and crumpled papers, and on the wall behind Frank’s desk was an old fashioned painting that Rita was quick to point out was quite erotic.
Between the bookcases was a tall window that showed the passing of the seasons as water, snow, leaves, and petals could be seen falling on the other side of it. For the transitions between scenes, director Sarah Rodgers uses music from British bands to add to the mood, as Frank smoothly changes from blazer to sweater vest.
Lewis and Bellis brought this well written script to life as the witty banter between Rita and Frank created brilliant chemistry on stage. As Rita gains confidence in her newfound knowledge and Frank descends into depression, there is a wonderful role reversal scene. Rita sits at Frank’s desk and explains that Rubyfruit Jungle isn’t as good as she once thought, and Frank sits across from her admitting that it’s actually not bad.
The relationship that develops between Rita and Frank is borne out of a shared passion for knowledge and a love of interesting conversation. When the two of them are in Frank’s office, the outside world seems irrelevant, and they both get an education.
Educating Rita is presented by Arts Club Theatre Company from September 25 to October 25 on the Granville Island Stage. For more information, visit artsclub.com.