Intellectual awakening, much like a little knowledge, can be a dangerous thing. It can interfere with politics, social mores, and, especially where beautiful young women are concerned, personal relationships.

Educating Rita, first staged in 1980, explores this topic in a comedy with tragic undertones. Triad Stage brings one of the motherland’s most successful modern works to its stage at a moment when the theatre company itself is reaching full bloom.

This is Triad Stage’s first production since the announcement of its inclusion (one of only 10 theatres in America) in the American Theatre Wing’s (read: Tony Awards) New National Theatre Grants.  That’s “new” as in the last 15 years, and Triad Stage has been around only 10.  Most of the awarded theatres are in major cities such as Boston, New York and Chicago. If this stunning recognition doesn’t say what’s been on the minds of Triad Stage fans locally and around the country, then nothing will.

But back to our show.

 Triad Stage’s Educating Rita will wow bibliophiles and biblio-phobes alike. It’s a classy, comfy evening of witty repartee generously seasoned with the dry rub, or perhaps more accurately, the frothy head, of British life. The play, written by Willy Russell, is billed as Pygmalion meets Working Girl, and this production has a little bit of The Nanny thrown in for good measure.

The luminous Lori Prince, in her Triad Stage debut, gives a working-class British accent the ol’ college try, with varying degrees of success. Her Cockney twang is appropriately loud and nasal (shades of Nanny Fine) and quite similar to that of Julie Walters in the 1983 movie with Michael Caine. Audiences might find it a bit too abrasive, but the emphasis is on Rita’s “un-education.”

Prince is a stage veteran and Syracuse University grad who has also appeared on Law and Order and As the World Turns. While she’s amazing at waltzing into a scene, once she gets there, we somehow need, want, desire a spot more passion for Rita’s plight.

Our heroine has grown bored with her hairdresser life and seeks the tutelage of Frank, an aging (but handsome) professor, who, too, is jaded with his chosen profession. They find each other beguiling, for different reasons, and a connection is made. Each character is at a crossroad, one on her way up the road, and the other on his way down.

California-born Dennis Parlato’s Frank is flawless. This Guiding Light alumnus played Lawrence in Broadway’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Captain Von Trapp in the The Sound of Music. Needless to say, his British accent was dead-on, as velvety smooth as fog rolling in over the Thames. The debonair Parlato is also able to work himself up into a proper British fuss when the time comes.

Knowing these two have both had soap opera experience makes you want to yell: “More soap! We want lather!“

Eleanor Holdridge directs this production. Triad Stage-goers will remember her directing finesse in The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead. Holdridge has taught at Yale, NYU, Julliard, and currently at Catholic University of America, so she’s a keen observer of academia.

That brings us to the set. Bookworms (and hoarders) beware. This production could put your book envy into overdrive. To say books are everywhere just doesn’t do Marion Williams’s scenic design justice. Books are backdrop, walls and columns. Books are dressing rooms. Books are characters. Books are audience. Williams proves, once again, that Triad Stage can outdo itself. Beyond the edges of Frank’s messy office, beyond the outlying boundaries of the stage, this set even spills over into the lobby. Amazing.  

Educating Rita is a mirror of the education Triad Stage has given us: how one little theatre in a  Southern town can give the national theatre scene a shake and garner attention from the big guys. Encore – and many more.

The show continues through November 7. See our calendar for details.