Theater Review: 'Educating Rita'

Educating Rita, By Willy Russell, Translated by Yosef El-Dror, Directed by Roni Pinkovitch, Bet Lessin, November 17.

‘Educating Rita' (photo credit: DANIEL KAMINISKI)
‘Educating Rita'
(photo credit: DANIEL KAMINISKI)
Rita (Magi Azarzar) is a hairdresser with a gnawing inside of her, a feeling that there’s more to life than what she’s got. Education is the key, she decides. Enrolling at the Open University, she is assigned literature professor Frank Bryant as a tutor. Frank (Rami Heuberger) is a worn down, burned out, depressed alcoholic into whose pointless life Rita blows like a spring gale. The comedy delicately limns both the blossoming of Rita’s mind and that of the relationship between this unlikely pair.
Almost summing up a decade of tremendous change – it premiered in 1980 – Educating Rita is about such change, about self-awareness, about the sterility of much institutional education and about unrequited romance that resonates, oh so fitly, like one of Chekhov’s.
The action spans a year during which we watch Rita’s horizons expand – there’s even a foray into intellectual snobbery until her innate common- sense asserts itself – while Frank becomes more and more aware of his own wasted life. The relationship ends when Frank is, more or less, exiled to Australia, but there’s one last gift Rita means to give him.
This is a two-hander so the relationship between the characters is important.
Heuberger’s Frank is colorless, drab, seems almost like a sketch of the character. It’s true that Frank is depressed, but lack of affect doesn’t come across on stage. Azarzar has to work very hard, too hard, to achieve motion in the exchanges between them. She’s a bright, lively presence, but why the breakneck pace? It’s true that Rita is “common” – Brit for lower class and a bit vulgar – but that doesn’t mean she has to gabble, nor does it mean she has to dress or act like a frecha, a derogatory Israeli slang term also meaning lower class and a bit vulgar.
Anna Ziv’s study set is properly messy, like Frank’s mind and Oren Dar’s costumes are mostly apt. It would have worked better had director Pinkovitch shifted the action of the play to Israel rather than leaving it in England. As it is, this Rita is a hybrid that doesn’t quite work.