I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you were ever what could be considered an even mildly typical student, you probably thought at least once, “This subject is so useless! When will I ever USE this?” and then proceeded to suffer through the remainder of your lesson in silent or quite audible misery. Beyond that stage, many people pour their efforts into making themselves relevant. If people didn’t want to feel important I don’t think Facebook or Instagram would be the successes they are. But I digress: Sex and Education is playing over at the Laguna Playhouse. It’s a ninety minute, one-act play featuring three actors who present to us the English language in abundance and absolute hilarity.
Why in the world would anyone ever want to be a teacher? This is the question that came to mind as the play started. It’s such a thankless role. This is evidenced through our Miss Edwards, a high school English teacher who is about to retire. She’s off to the world of real-estate, but before she goes, she catches the school’s hotshot basketball player Joe Marks passing a note to his girlfriend Hannah during their final exam. Upon further inspection of the note, Miss Edwards finds it lacking in several departments. These include but are not limited to syntax, a main topic, and an overall cohesive thought. As a final hurrah, and in an attempt to teach this lazy young man something before he graduates, she throws caution to the winds and tells him that if he does not revise his overtly offensive note into a still-offensive but much more scholarly article, she will give him a failing grade. What follows is a battle of wills, philosophies, and of course, language.
The straight play genre is often plagued from the challenge of “grabbing your attention,” at least in comparison with other story telling mediums. Musicals get your focus with big band numbers. Films have sweeping scenery and glorious special-effects to capture your gaze. I find plays to be much more story-oriented, and as such, the time setting up the story causes an audience to sit there saying, “Okay…okay…OKAY…OOOHH that’s where they were going with it!” Sex and Education defies the odds. It does what so many others have tried and fail to do. It grabs your attention from the start. That is accomplished through the use of one peppy and preppy prima-donna named Alexandra Johnston (Hannah). Our head cheerleader has the daunting task of being center stage (ok, left of center) and prompting the audience to cheer –as in the “Give me an A! Give me a B! When I say HILLSHIRE you say FARM!” style of cheering. I’m going to estimate about five people joined in, including yours truly. But it didn’t matter not many people joined in. It didn’t matter that for approximately forty-five seconds the question of the day was, “How often are they going to do this?” This caught our attention. Even if it was awkward, it forced us to tune into what was happening onstage. And Johnston is perfect in the role of the head cheerleader, dazzling the crowd with her confidence and charm.
Someone who is decidedly not cheerleader material (nudge nudge) is Miss Edwards (Julia Duffy). Poor Miss Edwards is strong and smart, but she is also worn out and has to decide whether spending her last afternoon as a teacher doing battle with an academically lazy athlete is worth her time and effort. Miss Edwards and Joe (Nick Tag) spend the entire play at each others’ throats, and it’s delightful. There is no need for violence. Their words contain enough comedic vitriol, making the play as exciting as a professional boxing match. And the points they are arguing are worth discussing. Think about it, how many times have you heard a student say a particular class is useless and not worth their time? How often have you heard someone claim they have all the answers and everything is squared away, so they need not bother with anything else? These viewpoints are set against the others with all the eloquence of an English major and the catty gall of an obnoxious teen.
The sound is as smooth as could be asked for. If there’s any static or volume drops they aren’t worthy of note (seeing as I don’t remember them). The set is perfectly fine. It’s a small classroom set up on a platform in the middle of the stage. Stage right and stage left aren’t of great import until those intervals of Hannah prancing out to do a routine. Wherever the performers are though, you can clearly see them.
Sex and Education is hilarious. Yes, there are quite a few foul words. Yes, there is talk of sex, but the purpose behind all the cursing and sex talk is larger than what you might expect. The show’s arguments are interesting as well as effective. I actually think there is something in this show for “both” parties. Hear me out: those who side with the English teacher’s argument for the value of language and academia in general will appreciate the insane lengths she goes to make a difference in someone else’s life. High school aged patrons will (because let’s be real) probably be more likely to find humor in the cursing and sex talk, but Miss Edwards argument for the benefits of sounding like you know something is sound enough that it might make an impact on a reluctant student. Even if they don’t resolve to become new people the next day, the show is funny enough that I am confident the information might actually stick. Sex and Education is absolutely worth the drive to Laguna Beach. Heck it’s even worth the parking meter price.