Flingin’ with Rita

It was a nice day off yesterday, and I even had plans of stuff to fill my time with!  I’m starting to get like that, all plan-y and getting shit together.  My trip to Toronto for SUMMERWORKS is set to go this August…train tickets and room have been taken care of, and soon I’ll have a whole new crop of talented artists and performers to gush over while simultaneously shying away from.  It’s a tricky path I walk, friends.  And even my attempt at a play is now blueprinted to my satisfaction…oh, delusions of grandeur, where have you been all my life?

So, my day…a hot one, and I wandered a spell, bought some comix (Jim Shooter back on Doctor Solar?  Geek squee!), and hit the Bytowne Theatre for an afternoon show of FISH TANK, a grim and gritty 2009 UK coming of age story.  In which we see that coming of age in Britain is a gruelling, unending nighmare of poverty and despair. Good flick.

After that I had tix for the opening night of one EDUCATING RITA at Arts Court, kicking off the Downtown Rideau ‘Summer Fling’ operation which, if successful, might mean we’ll actually have some god-damned plays to see in summer once Fringe ends from now on.  Good thought, sez I, so here I am, all supporting-the-arts and shit.  Plus, Arts Court is just a great place to catch a show, so ’tis always a dee-lite.

The show is directed by Kate Hurman, who starred in the Summer-Fling prototype show SEXY LAUNDRY last year, in which she kicked much theatrical ass.  And even before the doors opened last nite, you could hear a constant stream of 80’s style power-pop tunes emanating from within the theatre, perhaps a nod to the decade of origin of Willy Russell’s play, or maybe just something to get us all into a play-ful mood?

Because if this won't do it, let's face it, nothing will.

So we finally entered to see an office-type set, a few desks, tons of books, a window and a cheeky painting of Eve and the snake.   I’m crap with allegory, but even I could see the subtle hint once the lights went down and things got underway.  John Koensgen (recently of HEROES and FACTS at the GCTC) appears first as Frank, a moptopped, world-weary professor in various stages of drunkenness.  He, much against his better wishes, has taken on a position at a public college in order to get by, and one of his first duties turns out to be tutoring. And his first tutoree is Sarah McVie’s Rita, a brash, sexy sparkler of a character like I assume actors generally only dream of getting to play.  McVie nails it beautifully, balancing Rita’s hammy charm and earnest thirst for knowledge (see: the snake painting earlier), and generally getting fabulousness all over the scenery wherever she treads.    There’s enough costume changes going on throughout to intimidate pretty much anyone this side of Madonna, but our Rita enjoys her fashion.

Hair is also a factor...it's the 80's, after all.

The playitself (for those, like me, who were pretty oblivious of it before this) is an interesting fusion of a buddy comedy and a love story, and ends up being something quite other. As Rita herself puts it in one scene, “It’s fun, tragedy…innit?” So is Educating Rita a funny tragedy?  A tragic comedy?  Will Frank find new life under flamboyant Rita’s influence?  Will Rita become that most dreaded of creatures…the fine arts major? For me, watching Rita’s bullheaded quest for knowledge and enlightenment clash with Frank’s bitter, nihlistic alcoholism and despair (and Koensgen’s performance is one that only gets better as the play picks up steam), I couldn’t help but love these two weirdos and want them to win.  Whether they do or not, you have to watch the show to see (or rent the movie, I suppose, but come on, get out of the house already!).

I should point out there’s an intermission in this perofrmance, and I offer a tip…intermissions minus beer money=fucking BORING.  Plan ahead, kids.  And please, let’s do get some kids out to catch this good time…not that I felt intimidated, being one of the handful of people at the performance who was NOT over 50.  I just wish the young’uns in this town would see something OTHER than just Fringe as far as plays go.  Kick-ass theatre is kick-ass theatre, yo.

Oh, and the good thing about opening nights that I’d forgotten?  FREE FOOD.  Yum!   I only wish I could do the opening of the next two Arts Court shows, INSEPERABLE and SWIMMING IN THE SHALLOWS, but I’ll be just getting back into town.  So til next time, AC, and everyone, do the right thing and get yourself Edjicated.  Out for now, still trying to do that Shakespeare in the park thing,

The Visitor

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