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A CurtainUp Review
The History Boys

I'll sing to him/ Each spring to him/And worship the trousers that cling to him/ Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I
— Lorenz Hart, original lyrics to "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" for Pal Joey Sung by Posner

History Boys
Front Row: Brian Cowden as Rudge, Michael Doherty as Posner, Jonathan Silver as Timms, Peterson Townsend as Crowther. Middle Row: Ankit Dogra as Akthar, David Howey as Headmaster, Maureen Torsney-Weir as Mrs. Lintott, Chris Bresky as Lockwood. Back Row: Evan Jonigkeit as Dakin, Frank X as Hector, Matt Leisy as Scripps, Matthew Amendt as Irwin
(Photo by Mark Garvin)
Alan Bennett's funny, erudite and poignant megahit is directed by Terence J. Nolen, multiple award winning Producing Artistic Director of the Arden Theatre Company. With his take on The History Boys, Nolen once again finds his delicate balance of inspiration and practicality.

A very brief intro to the story: Hector, a beloved teacher at a boys' public school in northern England, has a holistic approach to teaching that favors flights of fancy, sentimentality, an offbeat rigor, and outmoded memorization. The school's "ends-justify-the-means" headmaster brings in Irwin, a young teacher with a pragmatic and truth-is-irrelevant orientation to education that conflicts with Hector's. Irwin is to shape the boys up for Oxford and Cambridge entry exams. (In an amusing touch, throughout the play the two universities are mixed up.) It's past vs future, a bout between a kind of British Harold Bloom and a no holds barrred Kaplan's Test Prep.

[For the full story see links to CU's previous reviews below] If you've seen one of these, you can't help but notice immediately the differences between this show and the London/NYC shows of 2004-2007. For one thing the spare thrust stage has no clutter and no posted bills. The set is more symbolic than messily realistic, and the production is so uncluttered that Hector doesn't even swat the boys with a sheaf of papers or a magazine. He employs a tidy little book.

The lead actor is very different from the legendary Richard Griffiths, but it turns out that an agile, sensitive black actor works extremely well in the role. The elegant Frank X, rather rumpled here, is incomparable as usual. Matthew Amendt seems too likeable as Irwin, but his interpretation renders the young interloper's appeal to the boys all the more understandable. All eight actors in the boy roles are remarkably talented and wonderfully cast.

Evan Jonigkeit, a rising Philly star, is noteworthy as Dakin. Michael Doherty, an extraordinary discovery, is still a college student. A perfect Posner, he sings like an infatuated choir boy. Maureen Torsney-Weir is a convincing Mrs Lintott, who takes a third, " Just the facts, ma'am" educational position. When she gets her chance to vent, she wryly notes to the audience that it is the first opportunity afforded her to do so by the playwright. David Howey, who plays the Headmaster is totally believable. Actually he is a kind of headmaster himself as the head of UArts acting program. The Headmaster's stated concern about assessment surely resonates with teachers in the audience, who have all had "Assessment" out the wazoo.

Hector's out of fashion teaching is not the worst of his proclivities. There is his sexually transgressive behavior toward his students. He is a lovable old coot, the boys are complicit, and the episodes in question are not actually seen. Much less is made of it — or the blackmail-bargain fix— than of the clash of educational goals and philosophies. But The History Boys is complex, layered with accidental occurrences, and it might pack a dose of John Irving-like fated retribution.

The Arden's solidly directed new production moves like a charm. The many transitions, like furniture mover's ballet, seem to happen in the blink of an eye. My only criticism is that the actors sometimes can be hard to hear, depending on where they are standing on the stage. Surely that is fixable. Bennett's popular and much acclaimed play is worth a special trip to 2nd Street.

The History Boys-- in London & NY

The History Boys by Alan Bennett
Directed by Terrence J. Nolen

Cast: Boys-- Ankit Dogra, Peterson Townsend, Evan Jonigkeit, Chris Bresky, Michael Doherty, Brian Cowden, Matt Leisy, Jonathan Silver ; Teachers-- David Howey, Frank X, Matthew Amendt, Maureen Torsney-Weir
Set Design: David P. Gordon
Costume Design: Alison Roberts
Lighting Design: F. Mitchell Dana
Sound and projections Design: Jorge Cousineau
Musical Director: Daniel Kluger
Dialect Coach: Hazel Bowers; French Coach: Maureen Torsney-Weir
09/24/09- 11/01/09, Opening 09/30
3 hours and 5 minutes includes one 15 min intermission.
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 09/30 performance. At the Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd St.
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