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Theater review: ‘Sex and Education’ at the Victory Theatre Center

July 14, 2011 |  3:01 pm

Sex and Education"Your sex life should be like your verbs — active." Such is the core thesis of "Sex and Education," Lissa Levin’s thoughtful, entertaining comedy at the Victory Theatre Center. 

Capably staged by Dan Guntzelman, what begins as an after-school detention on the last day of class puts a lot more than discipline on the line, both for high school English teacher Miss Edwards (Maria Gobetti) and her captive pupil, Joe (Kanin Guntzelman), a graduating basketball star who needs a passing grade from her for his college athletic scholarship. After intercepting a note from Joe characterizing her in unprintably obscene terms, Miss Edwards subjects him to a hilariously merciless dissection of its grammatical errors.

Miss Edwards has nothing to lose (it’s also her final day, as she prepares to bail on a 36-year teaching career to go into real estate). Refusing to make any concessions to Joe's celebrity, she keeps him in the classroom until he reworks his note into a competent paragraph on what she intuits was its true intent: persuading his girlfriend to have sex for the first time.

Levin has obviously diagrammed a sentence or two in her time, and her shots at declining standards of literacy are spot-on. She’s also a savvy enough dramatist to equip Joe with sharp return volleys, especially in his surgical strikes at Miss Edward’s deepest insecurity: the possibility that her life has been a failure.

Despite some rough spots in their exchanges, Gobetti is suitably articulate and acerbic, and Guntzelman projects an engaging mix of arrogance and vulnerability. Levin skillfully employs interior monologues for deeper insight into these two well-matched combatants. Effective flashbacks offer some nicely played flirtations between Joe and his cheerleader heartthrob, Hannah (Jessica McKee).

Less successful are the periodic perky cheerleading choruses punctuating the play’s life lessons — they’re stagey lapses into self-evidence that only distract from Levin’s intricate interplay between the twin miracles of sexual awakening and the acquisition of learning. 

-– Philip Brandes

“Sex and Education,” The Victory Theatre Center, 3326 West Victory Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 7. $24-$34. (818) 841-5421 or Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Photo: Maria Gobetti and Kanin Guntzelman. Credit: Nancy Savan.