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Educating Rita Banner

Educating Rita

By Emilee Hatfield

Subjectivity is a very interesting thing, it is beaten out of the brains of all writers alike that make their way through the educational system. Being a lover of English and Literature myself, I cannot tell you how many times I had to “shut off” the subjective side of my brain when it comes to literary analysis or critique papers. However, that is always easier said than done. Yet the question is still lingering like a shot of whiskey that has just been poured.  Does subjectivity, matter more than objectivity?  Does the normal, educated appearance matter more than one’s own unique personal identity? 

These questions are fully explored within the Arvada Center’s production of, Educating Rita, that opened last night to an almost sold out crowd. The play, directed by Lynn Collins is the opener to the Arvada Center’s Black Box season and creates an overall shock factor to both the mind and soul. 

The story revolves around a young woman named Rita (Emily Van Fleet) , who enrolls in an open university literature class, taught by a professor named Frank (John Hutton) who prefers to spend the night at the pub rather than the theatre. 

Over the course of their lessons both Rita and Frank find themselves learning from one another, all the while revealing the importance of the human mind, and what we define as “educated” can mean more than what we give it credit for.  This is emulated perfectly when considering that the only two people ever on the gorgeous set design by Brain Mallgrave is Rita and Frank. Which in the case of Hutton and Van Fleet is both an amazing and intriguing mix, the two actors create that instant connection needed when having only the two of them performing throughout the whole show. This can be hard on actors sometimes, but both actors carry this story on their shoulders with grace and ease. Keeping you in your seat with a curiousness as to what will take place during their next lesson. 

The power of both of their performances is the crown jewel of this play. Both actors clearly understand their characters very well and embody them to the best of their ability. The mix that is created between them is perfect, as if they were the embodiment of the comedy and tragedy masks that are not one without the other. 

It is rather tragic to watch as Frank slowly watches the inevitable happen to his student as she looses some of herself in order to meet the expectations of the world. And this is something that playwright Willie Russell encapsulates so well within the character of Rita. 

Despite the play being set in the 80’s its relevance is just as important now as it was then. The theme’s of personal identity vs. cultural class can really weight on Rita who must fight certain societal stereotypes constantly in the back of her mind and in the wake of her personal life.

It is in that moment that Van Fleet has the audience at her feet. Equipped with a Liverpool accent of the highest ability she is able to take this theme whether the audience is aware of it by this point of the show or not and slap them right across the face with it. Leaving Hutton to merely stand there within the closing moments of the first act as she presents the defining realization of what goes through people of different social classes minds when fighting to break out of the norms of their environment. 

  Overall then entire production is fantastic and should be added to your list of theatre of need to be seen within the Denver Metro area. 

From the directing, acting, designing, and dialect couching, each piece fits perfectly together to create a powerful night of theatre that truly takes you places you did not expect to go. Leaving you to question yourself and how important subjectivity is when looking at the objectivity of the world. Whether you find the answer is fully up to you. 

Educating Rita runs through November 11th, for tickets please visit https://arvadacenter.org/educating-rita or call the box office at 720-898-7200

 Mama Mia Banner 

Mama Mia Banner 

Mamma Mia

By Emilee Hatfield

There are very few musicals that are able to create such a natural irresistibility that even the shyest personality could instinctually open up to. Out of this small eccentric group of musicals is the one that you could argue started it all. 

Mamma Mia for a lack of a better word captured lightening in a bottle with Abba’s most famous tunes as its musical score. Though it can be easy to put on a production of the show, it can arguably be very hard to replicate its personality. 

  Director Rod A. Lansberry, and the company of the Arvada Center’s production of Mamma Mia that opened September 7th, have proven that lightening can strike twice. Capturing the heart and soul of one of America’s most popular feel good musicals in a time when we need it most. What this company embraces about the musical brings the audience into the cheeky Greek Island of Kalokairi, even before they can set foot in the theatre. 

Once inside we see the incredible Mariah MacFarlane, whose wide eyed Sophie is nervously sending letters to three men, who may or not be her potential father, to her wedding that is taking place within the coming days. When they accept and come to the island unbeknownst to her hardworking independent mother Donna, (Shannan Steele), what ensues is a crazy but heart filled adventure about family, love and what it means to be a free spirit. 

The heart and soul of Mamma Mia has always been within it’s characters, their wild, loud, and energetic personalities putting such a spin on Abba’s songs. MacFarlane  commands the stage with her beautiful voice and performance, but there is just something about the mother-daughter connection that she has with Steele that is so profound that by the end of act 2 you truly believe that the two were related. Shannon Steele has well established herself as one of Denver’s most lovable and talented actresses working in today’s theatre scene. She of course has proven time and time again why she continues to be, and as Donna she absolutely shines. 

“Slipping Through My Fingers,” was the moment she stopped the entire show with just her presence and voice. Encasing the beauty and sacrifice of motherhood that is so very hard to create. And just like the talented storyteller she is, places the show on track once again. All the while allowing you to see the undertones to Donna’s inner struggle, but pride that she has for her daughter and her choices. 

  But where would Donna be without her talented dynamos Rosie, (Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck) and Tanya (Piper Lindsay Arpan). The comedy chops these two women bring to Rosie and Tanya are unstoppable. Even in the background the facial expressions of Arpan make one laugh even before the one liners come in. Her actions are very much so what the character of Tanya is-with a little hint of Christine Baranski mind you-which makes for such good theatre Arpan deserves every line of praise she gets for this performance. Hilsabeck receives her own praise as well, with being the understudy for Rosie. (Originally to be played by Megan Van De Hey) and bringing her own feel to the role. “Take A Chance On Me,” was filled with such laughter due to Hilsabeck’s performance that I’m pretty sure she brought tears to some eyes from their laughter. What is all the more impressive is that of Hilsabeck’s choreography that is within the show; her hard work, and limitless creativity is worth admission alone. 

The entire cast you can tell is having a blast while taking on this show, encasing what is so important about this musical and why so many people have fallen in love with it over the years. The emotions are spontaneous and irresistible to all who come in contact with them. What also helps is the incredible set design by Brian Mallgrave and costumers by Clare Henkel that create an atmosphere that throws the possibility of colder weather out of the door. A show is only as good as it’s designers, Mallgrave and Henkel certainly surpass expectations and expertise when it comes to the feel their designs give to the audience and to the story.

In all honesty Mamma Mia is just one of those shows that I rarely hear someone not enjoying or admitting with a sour look on their face that it is a good show. The music, the costumers, the characters, it’s all just so wonderful and enjoyable that it's the escape many people long for after a long week in reality. This productions personality is infectious, Lansberry has put together one of the best openers to the fall theatre season; the charisma, charm and wit that the cast creates is truly unable to resist. 

 

Mamma Mia runs through September 30th at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, for tickets please visit https://arvadacenter.org/mamma-mia or call the box office at 720-898-7200