Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of I'll Be Back Before Midnight
Jan Meyer directs, allowing her two actors to wax and wane with quicksilver fluidity and tantalizing little flourishes of style. Tom Kopp quietly fills a role that will inevitably be compared to Henry Higgins, bringing the legend of Pygmalion and Galatea right up to the modern idiom. As Frank (a British professor), Kopp's performance is full of nuance, kindness, and even powerful ruefulness. And that's what makes it a far deeper portrayal than you'll ever get from My Fair Lady.
Maggie Wininger is equally great as Rita, the glam hairdresser seeking to better herself. There are no "Rain in Spain" moments of magical breakthrough as Rita sets course to become a dazzling cosmopolite. But it's still a glorious moment in act two when she gets rid of her bright outfits and comes on like the Prince of Denmark: in a blousy white shirt and black tights.
And through a series of (often funny, often insightful) misunderstandings, she also becomes an impossible object of desire: even as her "open university" professor hates himself down to a state of ruin. But the English love their ruins, and this Frank manages to be likable, even when he cannot like himself. He has a bit of that ghastly British-male streak of self-loathing that gradually threatens to destroy one relationship after another. It doesn't get in the way of the comedy hereor ultimately in the way of the romance, but only because this particular Rita can bounce back when the going gets rough.
Both characters have heartaches off-stage, involving people we never meet, as the play goes on. But, thanks to the actors, these "invisible" problems come to life in front of us in the quietest of ways. Trouble begins when a special bond between teacher and pupil creates jealousy in Rita's home life, and Frank's drinking gradually creates a whole string of problems at home and school.
But it's surprisingly heartwarming in a comedic production, even though Frank often seems miserable because he's educated enough to realize he'll never be more than a "second-rate" poet. And Rita (occasionally, between the laughs) also seems miserable, because of the obstacles that prevent her from drinking in the wisdom of greater minds.
Under the direction of Ms. Meyer, they're destined to be together, each for the sake of the other, in what may be a perfect love story.
There are some literary references in the script, but you can certainly enjoy the show without having shared the playwright's exact same life-long personal reading listand the handy program notes for this production will also help fill in any blanks.
West End Players Guild's Educating Rita, through February 21, 2016, at the Union Avenue Christian Church (a block north of Delmar). For more information visit www.westendplayers.org.
Cast of Characters