“Educating Rita” at the Reuben Cordova Theatre in Beverly Hills Theatre Review – A Scintillating Comedy

Willy Russell’s Pygmalion-themed story concerns a brash twenty-six-year-old, working-class Liverpool hairdresser who, though married, desperately craves a higher education and expansion of intellect, horizons, and possibilities. Longing for more out of life she even assumes the affected pseudonym of Rita. Her husband longs for a child and is vehemently opposed to her passionate quest for self-development and fulfillment. She attends Britain's Open University and is assigned a middle-aged lecturer, Dr. Frank Bryant, a misanthropic alcoholic, with whom she studies literature once a week. Frank only tutors to support his alcoholic dependency, and is initially less than enchanted with his new pupil, attempting strongly to discourage her from continuing to study with him. He pontificates while Rita argues her points. She returns each week to his drab, book and booze populated workspace, bringing a breath of fresh air, and is always gorgeous in both a different outfit and hairdo. The script’s quick-witted repartee is enchanting. 

 

 

Frank is depressed, cynical, and self-destructive, but Rita's ravenous hunger for learning, refinement, and sophistication, will not be denied. We see her miraculous development as an intellectual after only one year of learning. While charting Frank and Rita’s platonic romance, the play also critiques an inflexible exam-centered higher education system, and probes the difference between learning and wisdom.

 

 

As Rita’s life changes and she morphs into an “educated” lady, the rolls appear to reverse—she becomes the teacher while Frank heads towards the rocks.

 

 

British playwright Willy Russel is himself a former hairdresser who went on to write 23 published plays, the best-known of which include ‘Educating Rita,” (debut in London, 1980),  “Shirley Valentine,” and “Blood Brothers.” His quick-witted “Educating Rita” is sprinkled with references to Shakespeare, E.M. Forster, and other literary figures.  It is not a Pygmalion story, nor is it a predictable older man/younger woman romance, but is, itself, a completely unique comedy that also captures the essence of profound human yearning. The actors carry it off superbly, with slick performances, and smooth scene and costume changes. Rita (Murielle Zuker) sparkles, and her convincing British accent never flags for a moment!

Adrian Neil plays Frank.He scored critical plaudits as “Alfie” at the MET Theatre and in Alan Ayckbourn’s “Confusions” at the Lost Studio, and has amassed dozens of television rolls, among them characters on “Dexter,” “Castle,” “ Entourage,” “CSI:NY,” “State of Grace,” “24,” and more.

Murielle Zuker portrays Rita. A graduate of UCLA, she has appeared in several shows at the Odyssey Theatre, including “The Three Sisters,“ “Macbeth,” and “The Assassination of Leon Trotsky: A Comedy.” She also has a recurring role in the new TNT series “The Last Ship.”

Robert McKenzie directs. Last season at Theatre 40, a charming intimate theatre that comfortably seats around 100 people, he directed “Mrs. Mannerly” to great reviews. Also an actor, he has been appearing in Theatre 40 productions since 1985, as well as on film and television. They have a number of interesting upcoming shows scheduled to suit all tastes.

What: "Educating Rita." A comedy.

Starring: Adrian Neil and Murielle Zuker.

Creative team: Written by Willy Russell. Directed by Robert Mackenzie. Produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40. Produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

Photos by:  Ed Krieger

WHEN:

Thursdays at 8 p.m. at May 22 and June 5, 2014.
Gala Opening Weekend performance on Friday, May 23 is by invitation.
Friday at 8 p.m. on June 6.
Saturdays at 8 p.m. on May 24, May 31 and June 21.
Sundays at 2 p.m. on May 25 and June 1.
Sundays at 7 p.m. on June 15 and June 22.
Mondays at 8 p.m. on June 9, June 16 and June 23.
Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on June 10 and June 17.
Wednesday at 8 p.m. on June 11.

Running time: About1hour, 45 minutes

RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.

TICKET PRICES: $24 weekdays, $26 on Saturdays and Sundays.

ONLINE TICKETING: www.theatre40.orgNote:

SHOWING AT: Theatre 40, in the Reuben Cordova Theatre

241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills CA 90212.

The venue is located on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. Theatre 40 is a professional company.

Ample free parking beneath theatre.

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