Theater archives

Educating Rita


Imagine Harper Valley PTA in a topical mode (and without the catchy theme song) and you pretty much have the dud recipe for People Be Heard, Quincy Long’s self-described “comedy with songs.” The make-shift genre tips you off that the creators haven’t figured something out. (Here’s a script that even Barbara Eden would have the sense to pass on.) But to call this a musical comedy would be a stretch. The category may have declined in recent years, but there’s still got to be some reason for singing, dancing, and joking around. A ditzy tale about a local school board grappling with the creationist challenge to Darwinian science doesn’t cutit when the high jinks keep bogging down with hick bureaucrats at loggerheads.

A stripper at the Wiggle Room, Rita (Funda Duval) is asked to replace a school board member who has recently died. Newly divorced and trying to set a positive example for her young son, she accepts the appointment, not suspecting that the future of ninth-grade biology in her small town hinges on her vote. Instead of convincingly drawing out her predicament, Long keeps piling on the plot. In addition to the lengthy school board shtick (Guy Boyd as redneck Earl swilling from a can; Kathy Santen as holier-than-thou Linda organizing Bible camp kids to do her dirty work), there’s a child-molestation case, a Muslim love interest for Rita, a possible alien abduction, and, lest we forget, a handful of those annoying songs—guitar-strummed ditties that would have a hard time making it into a school play.

Whenever possible, director Erica Schmidt tries to convert the whole affair into another Debbie Does Dallas, the Off-Broadway stunt she staged to some fanfare in 2002. Duval (a Debbie standby) offers a winning performance in a generally losing effort. People Be Heard squawks in many different theatrical languages but never finds an authentic voice.