All it takes to make or break a play, movie, or even TV series is one performance.
Fortunately, Western Canada Theatre’s production of Educating Rita features not one, but two solid performances that anchor this comedy/drama.
This is a good thing too as Scott Bellis and Holly Lewis are the only performers on stage throughout the duration of Willy Russell’s classic, albeit lengthy, play.
Preview audiences apparently fell in love with Bellis and Lewis as much as I did. The Thursday night audience at the Sagebrush Theatre began applauding at the end of every scene, something this reviewer has never experienced before.
Dissatisfied with the routine of her work and social life, Rita (Lewis) seeks inner growth by attending an Open University course in English Literature.
Rita’s tutor, Frank (Bellis), is a middle-aged, alcoholic career academic who takes on the tutorship to pay for his addiction.
The two have a profound effect on one another. Frank becomes impressed by Rita's earnestness and Frank's tutelage opens doors to a new self-confidence for Rita.
However, Frank's cynicism returns as Rita adopts the pretensions of the university culture he loathes.
Lewis comes on strong right out the gate. So much so that her firecracker of a character overshadows Bellis’ more sombre Frank for the first several scenes.
This is neither Lewis nor Bellis’ fault. Rita is written charismatic, Frank defeated. But it doesn’t take long for Frank’s cynical humour to shine through, and Bellis begins to match Lewis line for line, scene for scene. Their relationship and performances are Educating Rita.
This review wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the great set created by Gerald King and director Sarah Rodgers’ selection of songs that play between scenes. They add a subtle depth to the story and move the play along.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a tough act to follow, but Educating Rita does the job nicely.
Educating Rita continues at the Sagebrush until March 2.