note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Richard Pacheco
Ed Shea, who has spent most of his time at 2nd Story as a director, has more recently returned to the stage as an actor with some riveting performances and this is no exception. He is Frank, a failed poet, once the darling of the academic world, now more ad disheveled disaster of a professor on his last legs, one his way out more dedicated to alcohol than to academia. It is a dazzling performance, full of nuance and energy as he plays the bitter professor, disenchanted with his life and too fond of the scotch nips he has hidden throughout his office.
This is all brought vividly to life with his interactions with Rita, played by Tammy Brown as the feisty, sassy hairdresser who wants to plunge headfirst into learning with passion and determination. Rita is trapped in what is for her a dead end job and a bad marriage and she views this chance for education as her way out, her escape to a better life. She plunges with all her energy and determination she can muster. She craves the world of books and theater as her rescue, her way out of the mire she finds herself trapped within. Tammy Brown is terrific and the perfect match for Shea’s Frank. Her transition from the lower class British accent to more cultured is perfect. It also offers another dimension to her performance with is robust and skilled.
It all evolves over a series of very short scenes which almost seems at times too much and too quick. But there is an emotional wave which transforms it all into something rich and resonant. It traces not only Rita’s steps towards liberation and education, but also Frank’s increasing enchantment with her, even dare say following in love with her.
Rita recounts her adventures with other students as she glides from her disenchanted ignorance to feeling she is the intellectual equal of Frank. As she grows bolder and more self confident, Frank grows a bit angry and irritated, even to the point of being jealous when she mentions the young male students she has come to know along the way.
British playwright Willy Russell sets the play entirely in the office of an open lecturer. It was also turned into a memorable film staring Michael Caine and Julie Walters.
Director Mark Pekham deftly manages all the rapid scenes with assurance and energy. He blends it all smoothly together.
The set by Max Ponticelli is excellent, ably capturing the atmosphere of a professor’s office. This is an excellent production that you won’t want to miss. It is a sheer delight that satisfies on so many levels.