Doorway Arts Ensemble Sex and EducationBy Eric Jones • Nov 8th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Doorway Arts Ensemble
Montgomery College Performing Arts Center, Silver Spring, MD
Through November 20th
2:00 with one intermission
Reviewed November 4th, 2011
As a former rhetoric major, I used to loathe having my persuasive pieces meticulously eviscerated by my teachers – constantly hearing that my argument wasn’t clear and that I wasn’t connecting with my audience. Never in a million years did I imagine myself being enthralled by a play whose entire plot consists of just that, but that is precisely what happened when I attended the East Coast première of Lissa Levin’s Sex and Education presented by Doorway Arts Ensemble and Arts Alive Theatre. The production team, director Perry T. Schwartz, and the tiny but terrific cast of three delivered an engaging and passionate performance of Ms. Levin’s disturbing yet hilarious and evocative script.
Originally conceived for the 2009 Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage Festival and first performed at the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival, Sex and Education tells the story of Joe Marks (Jonathan Douglass), a high-school basketball star who doesn’t feel the need to take his education seriously given the glorious career promised to him by every college in the nation. His English teacher Miss Edwards (Ellen Mansueto) catches him passing a filthy (and poorly-worded) note to his girlfriend – cheerleader Hannah Hunter (Emily Thompson). As punishment, Miss Edwards keeps Joe for hours after class and forces him to rewrite his note so that it better achieves his initial rhetorical purpose – convincing Hannah to have sex with him. Thus begins a mental and emotional odyssey for both teacher and student as each questions their own goals and how to effectively and ethically pursue them.
In his director’s notes Mr. Schwartz discusses his proclivity toward directing scripts that only work in the medium of the theatre, and Sex and Education is indeed one such piece. Having the characters step out of the “established reality” of the dialogue and conversationally speak their innermost thoughts to the audience wouldn’t work on film, but it was the perfect device to reveal each character’s true motivations to a theatrical audience. Mr. Schwartz’s innate sense of motion and energy was clearly reflected in the staging and use of the set, brilliantly designed by Sean Urbantke. For a show set predominantly in a room rife with traditionally defined rules of movement, Mr. Schwartz deftly avoided the pitfall of stagnation and gave his actors free rein to express and explore their complex emotions physically – a treat for the viewer. The technical elements worked together seamlessly to give this script the polished and professional look, sound, and feel that it deserves.
As Joe, Mr. Douglass possessed all the charm and swagger befitting the archetype of his character, yet he also displayed innocence and a youthful naïveté that grounded the character in reality and earned the audience’s respect. While some moments felt slightly forced, his performance overall was honest, endearing, and a delight to watch. Ms. Thompson’s portrayal of cheerleader Hannah was surprisingly powerful given the character’s lack of stage time. She acted more as a theatrical framing device toward the play’s beginning – turning Miss Edwards’ English lessons into hilarious cheer routines. As the play progresses however, Ms. Thompson’s skillful performance of Hannah’s few interjections into the main action showed her to be quite an intelligent and capable young lady (with impeccable grammar to boot!).
The standout performance for me was Ellen Mansueto as Miss Edwards. Her portrayal of a long-suffering teacher making one last effort to change a young person’s life before ending her career was astonishing in its honesty and brilliant in its simplicity. From the outset, Ms. Mansueto’s subtle deadpan delivery eschewed every stereotype associated with the jaded teacher character (I’m thinking South Park’s Cartman – “how do I reach these keeeeeeds?”) and established Miss Edwards as strong yet vulnerable, wise yet flawed, sarcastic yet compassionate, and always dedicated to her mission even if she doesn’t always know what it is. As if that weren’t enough, she’s also a riot. Her role as the lifeless teacher we all knew and tolerated in high school was turned on its ear with the injection of Ms. Mansueto’s razor-sharp dry wit. Considering’s Ms. Mansueto’s real-life career as an educator, it’s no wonder that she connected so well to this role and her real passion for education shone through in every scene.
With its frank discussion of teen sexuality and copious amounts of profanity (effective, not excessive), this show is definitely not fare for the whole family. However if you’re looking for a funny, thought-provoking, and oddly (ironically?) educational night at the theatre, I would highly recommend Doorway Arts Ensemble’s Sex and Education. Mr. Schwartz and his cast and crew have put together an exceptional show that, despite its simple premise, asks incredibly complex questions and satisfies almost as much as… learning.
I recently read an article by playwright/actor Sam Shepard in which he said that his plays would not work as film. Shepard’s plays belong in the theatre, are of the theatre, are “theatrical.” Since I am both a theatre director and a film director, I like to think I know what works in each medium. I agree completely with Sam Shepard. His plays will only work in the theatre. When I select a play, I look for those types of plays that work only on the stage. Last year, I directed Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. I chose it because of its theatricality, and because I believed I had a good idea of how to make it work. Beckett and Shepard write serious plays that have comedy in them.
Sex and Education by Lissa Levin is a comic play that has a lovely serious thought behind it. It is unusually theatrical for what some might think is only a situation comedy. Ms Levin made her living for some time as a writer of situation comedies for television, but she understands that television and theatre are different media. So with that understanding, she has written Sex and Education as a wonderfully theatrical play that uses the theatre to tell the story and to reveal complex characters in a comic situation.
As a director, I have tried to enhance all the theatrical elements of her play to tell this interesting story. We hope you will laugh, perhaps shed a tear and come to understand how this very theatrical play relates to you, the audience, and your lives.
– Director Perry T. Schwartz
- Miss Edwards: Ellen Mansueto
- Joe Marks: Jonathan Douglass
- Hannah Hunter: Emily Thompson
- Producers: Claire Myles, Perry T. Schwartz
- Director: Perry T. Schwartz
- Stage Manager: Theresa Hindersinn
- Costumes: Ellen Mansueto
- Set Design: Sean Urbantke
- Lighting Design: Christopher Campanella
- Sound Design: Jay Gilman
- Composer: Roger Coleman
- Cheer Choreography: Alden Kilbourne
Disclaimer: Doorway Arts Ensemble provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7331.
Eric Jones , a native of Frederick, MD, has been heavily involved in every single facet of theatre for the majority of his life. He has been seen on stages in Frederick, Charles Town, WV, Kensington, MD, Greenbelt, MD, Gettysburg, PA, and many others. A two-time WATCH Award nominee, Eric has over 80 shows to his credit and is a double-graduate of Frederick County's Arts and Communications Academy in music and theatre. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from the University of Maryland and currently lives in Frederick.