The thirst for knowledge is universal. What sort of knowledge a person seeks is, of course, particular to themselves, but it's safe to say that everyone has a curiosity in them. Whether it's looking for more culture, for an understanding of how things work or furthered schooling, the need to grow is a strong desire. In Shattered Globe’s production of Educating Rita, Rita is the first woman in her family to attend university. She is more than eager to learn “everything,” as she explains to Frank, her tutor. Frank is a lecturer who's currently more interested in scotch than teaching. Not looking forward to the semester, Frank tries to convince Rita to seek out another tutor but she likes him and thus begins their journey of both a formal education as well as an education about each other and themselves.
The scene is set even before the action begins with the stage, designed by Chelsea Warren, transformed into a library and office combination. With books and papers strewn about over every flat surface, the room looks quite lived in. It's appears to be a formal space but is made homey and inviting with that haphazard décor and messiness.
The show opens on Frank (Brad Woodward) searching his stacks of books for hidden scotch bottles. Woodard is instantly captivating and entertaining, taking control of the space and making it his own. His easiness with the character is apparent and he settles in well, going beyond merely “acting” and truly embodies the character. From the way he speaks to his body language, it's easy to forget a performance is occurring because it feels more like getting a glimpse into a real person's daily life.
Frank is preparing to meet with Rita, who busts through his door with the exuberance and excitement of someone who can't wait for a new chapter of their life to start. Rita (Whitney White) has a presence about her and a distinct personality that's made clear from the moment she steps on stage. White really plays up Rita's eagerness to learn and become and educated woman and that translates into a connection with the audience. Rita's attitude can be both attractive and grating but as the play progresses, White’s interesting character choices show something deeper in her eyes and her way of speaking. There are a few points throughout the performance when the action feels staged, but Rita’s fierce need to receive an education goes far below the surface, and it's clear White understands this.
Woodard and White keep the pace of the show moving along and keep the energy throughout. At a couple of points, it feels like the energy dips, causing the action to become a bit sleepy, but then it's right back up and the story moves along at a comfortable pace. The pair is obviously comfortable on stage together and they have a chemistry that is engaging and keeps the audience's attention. Woodard and White have an interesting relationship that shows through the both the moments of loud, boisterous lightness as well as the quieter, deeper moments that offer dynamics throughout and keep the show from being flat.
Educating Rita proves to be a relatable, entertaining show for anyone who's ever had the yearning to learn more about the world and to better themselves through an education.
Educating Rita plays at Chicago Dramatists (1105 W. Chicago, Chicago) through August 14. Tickets are $28 and can be purchased at here.
*** 3/4 stars
(All photos by Kevin Viol)