Pop quiz: What does it take to score? High school basketball star Joe Marks (Hunter Hoffman) says it’s about physical stamina, devotion to team, and impeccable strategy. For his world-weary English teacher Mrs. Edwards (Sarah Holt) it’s about intellectual rigor, patience, and inner curiosity. So when the dry-witted teacher picks up a raunchy note, soaking with hormones, that Joe’s tried to pass to his girlfriend Hannah (Carly Bates) in class, we’re set up for a sparring match between muscle and mind.
Who’s right? They both are, of course, and the greatest challenge for this play’s creative team is to surpass the well-worn premise (we already know, in a good tête-à-tête, that both sides will score major points) and to say something with conviction and originality. They do a nifty job of it – playwright Lissa Levin as well as director Matt Ripa and the cast – which is poignant given that it’s the very same challenge posed to Joe in detention. That note was about as subtle as a freight train. The task at hand? Rewrite it, only this time with good grammar, proper punctuation, and a compelling topic sentence. Welcome to Sex-Ed for academics.
“You could be at home right now with your feet up watching PBS!” Joe groans. But, as the sun sets, he realizes he’s not going home until he transforms his note into a well-crafted persuasive essay, so he tries to get out of it using everything from insults to apologies. But Mrs. Edwards has larger fish to fry (she is a volatile archetype after all: the hard worker who, on the final day at the job, has nothing to lose). “I don’t want your apology, I want your comprehension” she seethes.
Holt’s a great fit for this browbeating Socrates. Her penetrating glare grants her instant authority in each scene, and she does wonderful work at shaving her words down to razors while still, at times, finding splinters of vulnerability. Hoffman’s a talent too; for playing such a showboating big-shot, Joe’s adolescent mood swings from fury to tenderness and back again are nicely understated and unforced.
Through a series of arguments – all quite funny – the two discuss the rhetorical power of logic and metaphor (some bad poetic imagery gets written too, for comedic effect). Sure, it’s a little odd that the talk revolves around how to woo a high school girl out of her virginity, but for all the profanity and sexual candor it’s actually pretty tame; all the quipping and lighthearted sarcasm shields us from anything truly shocking.
Dancing at the corners of Joe’s mind is the figure of Hannah, dressed in her cheerleading uniform, who helps steer scenes away from pedantry with her hearty instructional cheers (at one point, for example, dancing out the definition to the word “expository”). Her bizarre habit of jumping in and interrupting reality lends a refreshing splash of silliness to the proceedings, for it’s not until the end that the two would-be lovers finally get to have a real conversation.
By then, Joe may have finally learned a thing or two about persuasion. So, in the end, will he score? Come on, class, what did you expect? It’s not called Sex and Education for nothing. Mrs. Edwards may have her Shakespearean tragedies down pat, but the kid’s got a few plays of his own.
SEX AND EDUCATION: A Learning Experience in One Act
Written by Lissa Levin
Directed by Matt Ripa
Produced by Doorway Arts Ensemble
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
Running Time: 75 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?