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Revived Colony Theatre Brings 'Sex And Education' Show Back to Burbank
Just 16 months after the grand Colony Theatre in Burbank was on the verge of fiscal collapse and seemed to face the sudden, undesired end of its organizational life after over 35 years of putting on plays, an influx of financial support has brought the company back from the near-dead. Buoyed by its revived fortunes, the Colony is forging ahead with an increased production slate next season and, fast on the heels of that big news announcement, opened its latest show "Sex and Education" this past weekend.
TV sitcom writer Lissa Levin's three-character play is an odd choice for the Colony, especially since it was already produced, to no particular acclaim, at Burbank's Victory Theater in 2011. This new staging features veteran TV star Stephanie Zimbalist as fed-up high school English teacher Miss Edwards, who catches the graduating senior basketball star in her class, Joe (William Reinbold), passing a lewd, clumsy note to cheerleader Hannah (Allison Lindsey), his girlfriend, during their final exam. Miss Edwards then threatens to give Joe an "F" for the semester, which could derail him from his ordained path to attend the University of North Carolina on a scholarship in the fall and continue his athletic career.
Since she's about to leave her job anyway, Miss Edwards decides to play a kind of game with Joe, declaring that she'll pass him after all if he's willing to work with her on retooling his ungrammatical, poorly thought out romantic proposition into an articulate and persuasive suggestion to Hannah that the two of them lose their virginity together. While she's at it, the teacher also emphatically drives home the controversial point that education is important and useful for everyone—even athletes. Trapped until Miss Edwards decides to let him go, Joe has no choice but to accept his teacher's offer. He realizes soon enough: "This isn't an English lesson, is it? It's a life lesson."
In the program notes for the current production, playwright Levin affirms that she wrote this play as a tribute to her own under-appreciated high school English teacher. "Sex and Education" teems with demonstrations of, and references to, the erudition and nobility of Miss Edwards in the face of Joe's early taunt that "people pay to watch athletes, not teachers." Unsurprisingly, though, the battle of egos between teacher and apathetic student quickly devolves into an unfair fight without even a hint of dramatic tension as she steadily browbeats him into submission. Standing outside the frame of action, meanwhile, Hannah often pipes in to reiterate Miss Edwards's points in cheers delivered to the audience, including "Be! Persuasive! B-E! Persuasive!"
Trefoni Michael Rizzi's set establishes an appropriately uneasy atmosphere in the classroom-turned-interrogation-room, with basketball nets on either side representing a distant freedom. Jared A. Sayeg's lighting design effectively isolates the actors during the the all-too-frequent moments when they turn away from each other and tell the audience directly how they feel about what's going on. ("He's not going to break me," Miss Edwards assures us at one point.)
Next up for the Colony, this spring, is a genuine classic, "The Lion in Winter," and then five new shows next season. Now that it's back in the game, the company should be ready to start scoring again.
"Sex and Education," directed by Andrew Barnicle, plays five shows a week through March 16 at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. Full-price tickets $25 to $49, discounted tickets available for $16.50 to $24.50 and $19.50 to $23.50.