Rita, a spunky, effervescent hairdresser (played by the charming, if too overeager, Whitney White), just wants to get a proper eduction. She’s looking to change herself.
She also likes to change her clothes.
With each scene change in Shattered Globe’s halting production of Willy Russell’s episodic British comedy, comes a 30-second or more blackout for White to switch up her attire. And with the show clocking in at nearly three hours, by the final blackout/outfit change, my interest in the Pygmalion-esque relationship between Rita and her tutor-turned-accidental-life-coach Frank (the miscast but game Brad Woodard saddled with a distracting character wig) had nearly dissipated.
At one point, I wanted to climb into Frank’s library liquor cabinet and pour myself a scotch to make things go a bit smoother.
Perhaps you’ve seen the 1983 movie, starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters. I watched some clips on YouTube this morning. From the moment Walters’ Rita literally bursts on the scene, there’s instant chemistry between Caine and Walters. They feed off one another. While the two couldn’t be more dissimilar (Frank is an over-educated and highly cynical professor with a drinking problem, Rita is an unrefined, wide-eyed optimist with a hunger for learning and a love of swearing) they are each looking to redefine themselves and have found the means through each other.
Why did I choose to watch clips of the movie now? Well, I just needed to ensure myself that it wasn’t the writing’s fault for the lack of chemistry in Shattered Globe’s production. While these are two fine actors, White and Woodard didn’t really connect for me until somewhere in act two, where stagey line readings and frantic energy are finally pushed aside for grounded, honest performances. But leading up to that, White’s energy is so off-the-charts, and Woodard’s Frank is so underplayed, it feels like they’re in two different shows. And with the clunky scene changes interrupting things, it makes for a weary evening.
Still, Russell’s hilariously biting examination of higher education, and the hallow pretentiousness it can lead to, comes through loud and clear, despite Shattered Globe’s uneven production.
“Educating Rita” plays through August 14 at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. More info here >