Before texting, facebooking and tweeting became the preferred mode of communication for young people, there was writing notes. Yes – those perfectly folded, handwritten on notebook paper notes that were filled with the latest cafeteria gossip. Remember passing them in high school? Remember perfecting your note passing skills so you could pass your note within the five-second window of opportunity that appeared just as the teacher turned her back?
Remember how it felt after getting caught? OMG! Or, even worse, how it felt when the teacher read the note, out loud? Awkward.
What if the note was about your teacher? What if the note was a final appeal to your high school sweetheart to finally have sex with you? Totally embarrassing.
Well, that’s what happens to a high school basketball star in Lissa Levin’s Sex and Education.With just a cast of three, Doorway Arts Ensemble’s East Coast Premiere of Sex and Education transports its audience back to the days of high school basketball games, pep rallies, marching bands, English Literature and yes, note passing.
Set in a class room in small town USA, Sean Urbantke set design is reminiscent of a typical high school classroom complete with hard metal and plastic desks, a dusty green and gray checkerboard floor, an old wooden teacher’s desk, and a chalkboard.
Sex and Education opens with what seems to be a typical day in the life of a graduating senior, which also happens to be final exam day. Star basketball player Joe, played by Jonathan Douglas, has successfully been able to game his way through high school and on to a college basketball scholarship. That is, until his last exam in high school when he gets caught in English class passing a note to his cheerleader girlfriend, and fellow senior, Hannah, played by Emily Thompson.
This note is not just any note. It’s a note filled with f-bombs, a—holes, and references to the female anatomy that would have made my English teacher blush. However, his teacher, Miss Edwards, played by Ellen Mansueto, (also the costume designer) is a soon-to-be retired teacher of 36 years, who, in a take-this-job-and-shove-it kind of way, abandons conventional methods of teaching. Instead of reprimanding Joe, she uses the note to teach him a lesson in English composition.
Where was this teacher when I was in high school?
Sex and education isn’t High School Musical-Senior Year. It’s a funny, sometimes shocking – an irreverent reflection on love, passion, and regret. Playwright, librettist, and lyricist Lissa Levin borrows from her background as a writer for television sitcoms and musicals as she brilliantly combines the timing and comedic quality of sitcoms with a lyrical and rhythmically driven text that moves the characters and audience along a hysterical ride. Both Mansueto and Douglas take command of the monologues and dialogues and captivate the audience with their outrageous back-and-forth bantering. At various points in the play Thompson engages the crowd with rousing cheers that invite audience participation. She adds school girl charm portraying the perfect mixture of an apprehensive yet assertive teen on the verge of becoming a young woman, who also knows her auxiliary verbs.
It may appear that the play only has a light-hearted look at teen sexuality and education. However, Levin takes these issues seriously as she expertly weaves powerful life lessons on love and decision-making with comedy and sexual innuendo, making the play poignant without being preachy. And there are some twist and turns that will surprise you.
Schwartz’s direction allows the audience to experience the comedic pulse of the play without feeling forced or contrived. In the Director’s Notes of the program, he writes that he “hopes that you will laugh, perhaps shed a tear and…understand how this very theatrical play relates to you, the audience and your lives.”
Audiences that go see Sex and Education will laugh and reminisce about the good ol’ school days and cheerleaders of the past. They will have a front row seat into the lives of three characters in the throes of making those difficult life decisions that we all have had to make at some point in our lives. Some of those decisions we look back and laugh at. Some we look back and regret.
Three cheers for Sex and Education!
Sex and Education plays through November 20, 2011, at Doorway Arts Ensemble at The Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center – 7995 Georgia Avenue, in Silver Spring, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
Read Ann Harris’ 2011-2012 Doorway Arts Ensemble’s Season Preview.