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Onstage: The History Boys

By Tom McElfresh · October 28th, 2008 · CityBeat Recommends

The History Boys makes it four in a row for wunderkind Alan Patrick Kenny of New Stage Collective. Four less similar items are difficult to imagine. To recite: Last spring there was a mordant, terrifying production Bug. Soon followed the razzle-dazzle staging of Jerry Springer: The Opera. Lately there was an exhilarating production of Conor MacPherson’s intense Shining City, directed by Ed Cohen. Now comes the roistering local premiere of the Alan Bennett play that took six 2006 Tony Awards, including Best Play.

As a sly, bemused, semi-Messianic prep school teacher, Hector (Buz Davis), leads his eight diverse lads to understand that pop culture and high culture are identical in their uses and their civilizing effect.

“History,” he says, “is one fooking thing after another.” Indeed! Likewise History Boys is one fooking comedic insight after another.

Hector and Irwin (Rob Jansen) get into this good teacher-bad teacher riff — only their roles subtly merge. Hector teaches his boys toward a life enriched with glorious words, be they W.H. Auden or Gracie Fields.

Because their school has never placed a graduate at Oxford, the headmaster (Nick Rose) hires Irwin. He coaches them to score well on their university entrance exams. Which matters? Teaching toward life or teaching toward a test? Does either process succeed? That would be telling.

Read Tom McElfresh's review here



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