Director Cameron Watson's lovingly staged production of British playwright Willy Russell's updated 1980 stage play for two actors (probably better remembered for its 1983 film adaptation) couldn't re-emerge at a better time in this country. Just as we're getting increasingly dire reports on the blowback of our economic recession on public education – rural schools cutting back to a four-day week, bus service curtailed, the cost of school lunches being jacked up as the rate of families evicted from their foreclosed homes keeps escalating – along comes Russell's homage to the capacities of learning to change minds and lives. A precocious beauty (Rebecca Mozo) wanders in to the extended education course of musty, aging college professor (Bjørn Johnson), a failed poet who teaches at a university in the north of England. They're both addicts – she to cigarettes, he to booze — but she has an insatiable curiosity about poetry and appetite to learn literary criticism. Her early essays are emotional responses, and he tutors her – in that crusty, Shavian way depicted in Pygmalion — to become more objective in her responses. She does, and he gets more than he bargained for. Through the course of their lessons, her life opens up, despite her shattering marriage; meanwhile, caught in pangs of jealousy and personal remorse, his life stumbles towards oblivion. The general pattern has a generic shape of A Star Is Born, but the emotional complexities that come with addictions and self-loathing are revelatory. The fire in Mozo's Rita is hypnotic – while her dialect keeps intruding like a small needle – a sound wavering between the south of England, the north of England and Alabama. Johnson is more credible than compelling in a workmanlike performance. Even with these drawbacks, the play's inner tensions come through, and Victoria Profitt's library-office set and Terri A. Lewis' costumes say as much about what's going on between these two as any of their words.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Aug. 23. Continues through Sept. 21, 2008
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