By Diana Saenger
The story of a university lecturer who takes on a young woman to tutor becomes a journey of revelation for both of them in “Educating Rita,” which opens the North Coast Repertory Theatre’s 2013 season. Rosina Reynolds directs the play by Willy Russell, on stage through Feb. 3.
Although the original script was revised by Russell in 2007 to make it more contemporary, Reynolds said she prefers the original script set in the 1980s. “For a woman of Rita’s class to cut loose from her surroundings was far more significant in the 1980s than it would be now. It was quite something at that time for the community she lived in and for girls her age.”
Meghan Andrews portrays Rita and Bjørn Johnson plays her tutor.
“Frank is a college professor in the south of England,” Reynolds said. “He loved literature and had great aspirations to be a teacher at one time, but he’s disillusioned with the system and his life, and the drink has become more familiar to him now. He drinks to forget the things he hasn’t managed to do.”
Then Rita enters Frank’s life and inspires him.
“She’s not a regular student, she’s a local who is plain speaking … a working-class girl,” Reynolds said. “She left school early and became a hairdresser. Her education was squandered by peer pressure to work, but she has a really curious mind and wants to learn. The dynamic of her coming into Frank’s life shakes him up considerably.”
As revealed on stage and in the 1983 film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, there are some dark moments in this story.
“These two people have a dynamic influence on each other, but it’s definitely a May-December relationship, even though they have an energy and passion between them,” Reynolds said. “Like all relationships, the first act centers on the newness … Frank discovers Rita’s desire for knowledge and his own rediscovery of his passion and ability to teach. By the second act, Rita grows beyond Frank and does not need him as much.”
Educating Rita has often been compared to “Pygmalion.”
“It is similar,” Reynolds said. “Frank and Rita go through a huge arc in their relationship. It’s a very well written play that’s witty and charming with interesting characters who find unlimited potential in each other. That’s what that makes an audience root for them to succeed.”