The Select boasts a talented and committed cast who throw themselves into both their disaffected characters and Katherine Profeta's anachronistic choreography with precision. Abetted by the sound design of Matt Tierney and Ben Williams, they hop nimbly in and out of imaginary conveyances and onto the tables when it's time to pass out. And though the piece requires no talent on the audience's part, it does demand commitment. On opening night, the curiously structured work, with one intermission and a "pause" that stretched into an intermission, lasted three and three-quarter hours. (Gatz was six and a half with a dinner break.) For my money, the fishing trip of Jake and visiting American writer buddy Bill Gorton might be axed without subtracting from the arc of a story whose focuses are Jake, Brett, and the miserable swains, with Cohn (his Jewishness made careless much of) and Scottish fiancé Mike Campbell buzzing around her flame like drunken moths. And though many of Hemingway's macho, affectless doings seem dated, the gorgeous and manly Brett retains her fascination, with every iota of her butch sizzle and cavalier wretchedness conveyed here by the magnetic Lucy Taylor.

"It's My Fair Lady without the music," the lady next to me whispered midway through Educating Rita (presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Boston University Theatre through April 10). Actually, that would be George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, the elocutionary-rags-to-riches comedy from which My Fair Lady is drawn. Brit dramatist Willy Russell's Olivier Award–winning 1980 two-hander, Educating Rita (which was made into a popular 1983 film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters), offers an altogether different Henry Higgins figure, one more likely to torpedo than hold the fort of the British class system and its mainstay of unequal education for all.

Frank is a failed poet and middle-aged don manqué at a university in Northern England who agrees to man the tutorial of a working-class lass bent on higher learning. But this boozy burnout, though he respects the literary canon, is no fan of the lockstep academe that insists on telling people exactly what to think of it. When sassy, sexy, 26-year-old hairdresser Rita turns up in his ivory tower, he finds her a breath of fresh air - one he'd just as soon not turn into a musty wind of academic pontification capable of acing her Open University exams. That, however, is the task at hand, and Frank has taken it on, in addition to his regular professorial duties, "to pay for the drink." And Rita, despite Frank's dubiousness and the erosion of her marriage to a bloke who considers education "rubbish," perseveres in her quests for literary pedigree and upward mobility. In the course of the meetings between jaded tutor and sparkplug pupil — the passage of time marked at the Huntington by changes in the weather outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of an office perhaps too impressive for Frank — Rita learns to think first like others and then for herself.

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