Saturday, February 15, 2014

Educating Rita at Olympia Little Theatre

The News Tribune, Feb. 14, 2014

John Pratt as Frank and Kaaren Spanski-Driffin as Rita
“Educating Rita” at Olympia Little Theatre is a witty look at a clash of culture full of smart dialogue, with a smattering of literary criticism thrown in to sweeten the pot. It’s also a tour de force for the two-person cast. The memorization of their lines is by itself a Herculean feat, plus they have to do it in dialect and both characters undergo an evolution of personality involving both nuanced and overblown acting – particularly on the part of Rita (Kaaren Spanski-Driffin).

The cast is comprised of Spanski-Driffin and John Pratt as Frank. Pratt is a seasoned veteran who has been acting on stages throughout Southwest Washington since 1993. His stage presence is confident and convincing. Audiences should have no trouble seeing him as a washed-up, bitter professor of English Literature whose only friends are the bottles of booze he hides behind books in his study.

Spanski-Driffin is a newcomer to Olympia Little Theatre who is surely destined to join the ranks of the best actors in the South Sound region. She is a comic delight as the outspoken and trashy Rita.

Rita is a hairdresser who wants to go back to college to better herself. She goes to Frank for once-a-week tutoring in English Literature. Frank, a poet with low self-esteem and an even lower opinion of his students is particular put off by Rita for her ignorance and lack of social graces. Over the course of the tutoring Rita becomes a more self-confident and graceful woman, but more importantly, she changes and humanizes Frank. It becomes a question of who is educating whom.

The same team of actors and director Norma Rogers produced this play at the Evergreen Playhouse in Centralia in 2012, which surely helped them fine tune their performance, and it shows.
Outstanding work is also turned in by set designer Matthew Moeller, costumers Allison 
Gerst and Barbara Matthews; and Rick Pearlstein, who did everything from stage managing to lighting and sound design and editing. 

I like Moeller’s set for his color choices and attention to detail – the professorial clutter, the crooked painting on the wall, the mis-matched bookshelves, and the ivy growing outside Frank’s window are all great touches.
The costumes enhance Frank and Rita’s character. They change costumes for each scene. I didn’t count, but there must be well over 20 costume changes, and the look of Rita’s clothing evolves as her personality changes.

This play is two-and-one-half hours long including a 15-minute intermission. Act 1 did drag a little toward the end, but very little.

For an enchanting evening’s entertainment I highly recommend “Educating Rita.”

WHAT: Educating Rita
WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 23
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

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