Hilarity ensues when a retiring English teacher and a headstrong student lock horns in “Sex & Education,” currently playing at the Victory Theatre Centre in Burbank.
During a senior English final, Joe Marks, the high school’s graduating star basketball player, is caught passing a profanity-laced, sexually charged note to his cheerleader girlfriend.
The communiqué contains a number of vulgar insults referencing their instructor, Miss Edwards.
Realizing the power of her position, Miss Edwards decides that her educational swan song will be to lead this cocky pupil to a personal epiphany, and as such, the battle is on.
Playwright Lissa Levin’s script, making its West Coast premiere, is intelligent, biting and wickedly funny.
Levin’s command of language is astonishing in scope. Her use of words and the components of speech they represent give this extended one-act a virtually bottomless well from which to draw.
Director Dan Guntzelman keeps things churning along as the characters move seamlessly from scenes to monologues to one-line asides tossed off to the audience.
Carol Doehring’s lighting design assists this variety of playing styles by covering scene designer Gary Randall’s intentionally mundane classroom setting with general as well as specifically sculpted pools of illumination.
But the true gift offered here is the trio of outstanding performances.
As the analytical Miss Edwards, Maria Gobetti, known for her work as the Victory Theatre Center’s co-founder and co-artistic director, blesses the production with one of her rare stage appearances.
Gobetti rules this classroom with a fierce and experienced stage presence.
One moment her voice, pitched high, exhibits the excitement her character gleans from having made some headway with her obstinate scholar; the next, dropping octaves in range to deliver a cutting punch line.
In particular, Gobetti’s sharp conveyance of a monologue focusing on dictionary usage and in particular, the words “extrapolate” and “extra ocular muscle” is priceless.
And though Miss Edwards can turn the screws, Gobetti makes it clear that this teacher, frustrated by years of apathy, is doing this not out of revenge but in the hopes of making a difference.
As the subject of Miss Edwards’ determination, Kanin Guntzelman capably holds his own both in the teacher-student confrontations as well as the flashback scenes with his girlfriend.
Most laudable is his well constructed character arc whereby this oafish, sexist boy begins what no doubt will be an ongoing transition into a more thoughtful, considerate young man.
Completing this sturdy three-legged stool of portrayals is Jessica McKee’s vivaciously gymnastic turn as the cheerleader whose blossoming sexuality is the object of Joe’s hormone-driven desires.
This top-drawer production, adult-natured in language and theme, is another sparkling jewel in the crown of the Victory Theatre Center.
Dink O’Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Association, lives in Burbank.
WHAT: “Sex and Education” by Lissa Levin
WHEN: 8:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4:00 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 7.
WHERE: The Victory Theatre Center’s Big Victory, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank.
CONTACT: (818) 841-5421; www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org