Student, teacher match wits in 'Sex and Education'

It’s hard to think of a clearer instance of preaching to the converted than a play in which a grammarian gets the best of an athlete.

The Colony Theatre Company's spirited production of Lissa Levin’s entertaining, sitcom-y “Sex and Education” gives us Stephanie Zimbalist (“Remington Steele”) as Miss Edwards, a deliciously dry, jaded English teacher whose belief in the importance of grammar has relegated her to a life of solitude and frustration.

As she explains to the audience (the many soliloquies are set off from the action by Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting), she’s finally decided to give up on the youth of America and go into real estate.

But while proctoring her last exam, Miss Edwards intercepts a vulgar note from basketball star Joe (William Reinbold) to cheerleader Hannah (Allison Lindsey), and something snaps: She keeps Joe after class, subjects him to a humiliating close reading of the note and insists that he rewrite it as a persuasive essay about why Hannah should sleep with him.

Although the plot is nearly as implausible as this bald synopsis implies, and although in another play Miss Edwards’ behavior might invite a lawsuit, neither concern, somehow, is obtrusive here. Director Andrew Barnicle establishes a brisk, good-humored pace that enables him to sidestep every sand trap and land mine.

The sparring of Joe and Miss Edwards — the heart of this slight drama — remains within academic bounds, and very funny, even when the gloves come off. Levin has definitely weighed the fight in Miss Edwards’ favor, but she lets Joe gets in some solid shots as well, and in these roles Zimbalist and Reinbold both come off like champs. Lindsey is also appealing, but a case could be made that the character of Hannah is extraneous. For most of the play, she is obliged to perform clunky cheers on the sidelines of John McElveney’s clean, straightforward set. When she does join in the action, her function remains pitiably expository.

Levin attempts to have things both ways by positioning Hannah as the sexual reward for Joe’s quest (her cute uniform is by Dianne K. Graebner) — while also, belatedly and unpersuasively, pitching her as an intellectual.

Still, anybody who has ever yearned for a protagonist who unashamedly upholds the distinction between “lie” and “lay” will enjoy Miss Edwards’ battle—even though the front she so heroically defends has long been lost to the forces of texting abbreviations. (Do high school students even pass notes anymore?)

Margaret Gray
Los Angeles Times
February 20, 2014