Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati continues to bring complex, challenging and entertaining works to the stage. They produce works that are layered, nuanced, smart and deeply creative. In other words, Ensemble gives me a lot of trouble when trying to write adequate reviews. It would be easy to say the show had us all laughing from start to finish, that I learned some new words, and Dale Hodges delivers excellence yet again. However, there’s so much more depth to “Sex and Education” that I must at least make an effort to explain it.
There are few formative memories more deliberately exhilarating than the final day of high school. That day among all other last days, with the promise of free time and no homework, marks the crossing from youth to adulthood. When I finished my final day of high school, everyone stood on the hood of their car and danced and cheered and cried good riddance.
Joe Marks has a very different last day of school.
The basis of “Sex and Education” involves several intertwining themes: teenage sex, professional frustration, age and mortality, teenage sex again, and education vs. athletics. As Joe prepares for his summer with his girlfriend and a storied college career playing basketball, so too does his English 301 teacher prepare for her next chapter. Resigned to the ennui of public school education, jaded Miss Edwards is retiring to go into real estate. Her last day as a servant to the scholastic arts coincides with her students’ final exams.
Caught passing a note of middling literary quality to his cheerleader sweetheart Hannah, Joe must stay after school to rewrite it. Punctuated by Hannah delivering grammar- and language-based cheers (trust me, it makes sense in person), the story unfolds as Joe and Miss Edwards battle for dominance. She wants him to prove he’s more than an athlete. He wants to prove to her that he doesn’t need to be. It’s a battle of wills.
Alongside Joe, the audience receives a thorough education on the English language and persuasive essaying. Truly, Hannah runs to the stage and starts a cheer with “Be! Persuasive! Be be persuasive!” Pom poms and all.
Intended or not, there is even the razor’s edge of #MeToo, as Miss Edwards has Joe writing a letter to persuade Hannah to sleep with him. I won’t give it away, but it is artfully and hilariously done. Me at 17 felt more than a little kinship with Joe.
Running now through October 27, “Sex and Education” covers both topics with vigor.
John David Back is a Cincinnati native who lives and works in OTR. He’s an avid reader and a mediocre writer who loves the experience of art and beauty. Tell him what he should experience and send fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.