In Lighthouse Festival Theatre artistic director Derek Ritschel’s words, the upcoming – and final – show of the 2018 season is “a departure from our regular programming”.
That didn’t happen by accident.
Educating Rita is set to open Sept. 5, and while the script does bring some laughs it also delves deeper than fans have witnessed thus far in 2018.
“We’re used to a certain fare at Lighthouse which is great, but I think it’s imperative upon me as an artist to give the audience a mix every now and then,” said Ritschel, who is serving as the director.
“I think people will really gravitate to it quickly because it is so smart and there is comedy but it doesn’t go drama, it goes real and there’s a distinct difference. When it goes real, I think people will be surprised by it, but yet really gravitate to it.”
The show is set around a 50-something English tutor named Frank (Brad Rudy) whose pessimistic view of the world has driven him towards alcohol and burying himself in books. Then enters Rita (Shannon Currie), a 26 year-old with a willingness to learn and who won’t accept no to her becoming his student. Their relationship blossoms, giving Frank a new sense of self and Rita the smarts she craves.
“The comedy of the show is the fact that they shouldn’t be put together,” said Rudy. “They’re opposites from two different worlds and I think the play is how they find things in common and inspire each other. There’s a class difference which is bigger in the UK than it is in Canada or North America, there’s an education difference, there’s a 30 or 40 year age difference, then there’s a student-teacher – everything is different.”
While all three — Rudy, Ritschel and Currie — have yet to see the 1983 picture starring Michael Caine, they were all drawn to the story’s charms. For Currie, it’s about rising above and and changing one’s own destiny.
“All these things are so universal – these (questions) of ‘how do I fit in?’, ‘who am I?’, ‘what gives me the right to anything?’,” she says.
“It just feels like it taps into those sort of universal qualities that move it past any sort of circumstance that would be bound by a time period.”
The trio believes having not seen the Educating Rita film actually works in their favour – they aren’t trying to live up to anyone’s previous rendition. Just a few days into rehearsals they went about challenging one another to make it their own show.
“Derek is in there both directing and acting with us, so there’s an energy about the three of us in a way and it really feels like three peers working together,” said Rudy. “We know he’s the boss and he makes that decision but there’s never that feeling in the room, there’s that feeling of, everything is up for grabs, everyone’s idea is important.”
In presenting a two-person show he would also direct, Ritschel carefully hand-picked Currie and Rudy, not simply because they’re LFT returnees.
“I have a vision of the show but I didn’t want to come in and it to just be my vision, I really wanted people who are smart enough to dig deeper and push me further and thereby getting further than I have ever gone,” he said. “On one side of the coin it’s about finding actors that are fearless enough to dig as deep as they can into the material and the other side of the coin was very selfish of my because I wanted to be pushed as a director and these two do that.”
As the man responsible for the LFT bill, Ritschel beams at the idea of bringing his audience something with a little more “intellect and heart”.
“Most people understand that it can get pretty heavy, but I really hope that the audience is open to it,” he said. “Just give it a shot because something special is going to happen, especially with these two. Something special is about to happen and I can feel that already a week and a half into rehearsals.”
Tickets for the show are available by calling 1-888-779-7703, online at lighthousetheatre.com or at the box office (247 Main St. Port Dover).