“Sex and Education” has an awkwardly constructed script that is performed unevenly and staged flatly. A product of the Kennedy Center’s 2009 Page-to-Stage Festival, the piece was later presented by Doorway Arts at the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival. While Levin has since revised her script, this one still has problems.
Actress Ellen Mansueto could bring more electricity to her Miss Edwards, but she has the tone right — resignation laced with bitterness and a scrap of idealism. Miss Edwards is retiring — make that quitting — and going into real estate. She’s fed up with trying to inspire dozing teens.
On the last day of school, star basketball player Joe Marks (Jonathan Douglass) passes a note to his cheerleader girlfriend, Hannah (Emily Thompson), during the final exam. Miss Edwards grabs the note and keeps Joe after class. She reads aloud his obscenity-laced grab bag of random thoughts, designed to persuade Hannah to have sex with him. If Miss Edwards doesn’t go easy on him, Joe could lose his college athletic scholarship.
For the rest of the play, in a series of relatively brief scenes, Miss Edwards badgers and cajoles him into turning his mash note into a well-shaped letter, explaining to Hannah why she is “ready” to have sex. No abstinence preaching here.
Hannah, pompoms in hand, occasionally interrupts the teacher-student joust with cheers that emphasize whichever rule of English Miss Edwards wants to explore. While Thompson is perky with the pompoms and fine in her other scenes, the cheers become cutesy exclamation points that get old fast.
Even less effective are Joe’s and Miss Edwards’s speeches, made directly to the audience. The two players keep stopping the action and turning away from each other to explain themselves. This feels like a crutch, as if the playwright had given up trying to weave plot and characters together organically.
The Los Angeles-based Levin has an impressive résumé, with years as a writer/producer on such hit 1980s and ’90s sitcoms as “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “Mad About You.” The way in which her play unfolds, with perpetual interruptions, has a whiff of TV about it. Nor are its flaws masked by director Perry T. Schwartz’s loose staging. Better pacing would help a lot.
Douglass is likable as Joe, but anyone who writes so profanely and who hates learning as much as Joe does could have more edge to him.
The play has its moments. Miss Edwards has a fine speech explaining to Joe (not just to us) how education adds context, perspective and depth to life. And Joe gets to teach her about basketball in another winning exchange.
Still, if plays are a collection of moments, “Sex and Education” has too few.
The school-band-style music that plays under scene changes (sound design by Jay Gilman, music by Roger Coleman) hits the right note. The classroom set by Sean Urbantke is a spare but evocative space: You can almost smell the institutional mustiness.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
Sex and Education
by Lissa Levin. Directed by Perry T. Schwartz. Lighting, Chris Campenella; costumes, Ellen Mansueto; cheer choreography, Alden Kilbourne. About two hours. Through Nov. 20 at the Cultural Arts Center of Montgomery College, 7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. Call 240-567-5775 or visit www.doorwayarts.org.