Artists Repertory Theater's adaptation of 'The History Boys' doesn't deliver all that the hoopla promised
Like many people, I've been to the majors. I've seen 'Les Miz,' 'Phantom,' 'Lion King,' 'A Chorus Line' and even … ugh… 'Cats.' At one time I actually had season tickets to outdoor performances of Shakespeare's plays (that was until I discovered that under that hooded sweatshirt, my husband was listening to the Mariners' game instead of 'King Lear.')
I suppose I've become nothing more than a cultural wannabe; someone who can say, 'I've been to the the-a-tah,' without actually having to hold season tickets.
However, in an effort to continue my (albeit lame) theatrical education, I went with great anticipation to see Alan Bennett's 'The History Boys' at the Artists Repertory Theater recently. After all, this show won a record six Tony Awards, including Best Play. This HAD to be good.
After three hours of heavy poetry-laden, historically referenced banter between British prep school boys and their pompous professors, I was overwhelmed. Who talks like this? I don't think even the British talk like this? I certainly don't know anyone who talks like this.
The love trysts were equally as confusing. One boy was in love with a fellow-student, who was in love with the young male professor. The young male professor consented to 'a drink' with his young crush (isn't that illegal in England?) but was waylaid by another male professor who had been fired for groping the same student. Got that? Isn't that an awful lot of pheromones for one very small cast?
While I struggled with the overwritten script and contrived relationships, I have to say there were some truly wonderful moments in this play. The musical performances scattered throughout showcased the multi-dimensional talents of the young actors. Whether a duet, an accapella group effort, or a solo, the music was a welcome relief.
Tyler Caffall, who played Scripps, the serious religious narrator, was excellent. He had the composure of an old pro, and was able to successfully hold his British accent throughout the play.
One of the themes of the play is the oft-debated academic conundrum: Should a teacher teach 'from the heart' to inspire the love of learning? Or should a teacher teach to the test for guaranteed results? Hector, played by Michael Kevin, is the aging unconventional professor who encourages the boys to learn by 'heart' poems, old movie scenes and other bits of entertaining trivia. Irwin, played by Chris Harder, is the snappy know-it-all professor who is hired to teach these boys to successfully test to get into England's top schools, Oxford and Cambridge.
The results are a compelling argument that one style is only as good as the other, which you realize when the professors are commanded by the head master to share their classroom.
'The History Boys' left me with some new creases in my forehead - and I was not the only one in the audience with a furrowed brow - but I suppose it was a good exercise to get out of the suburban bubble and stretch a little.
I hear 'Mary Poppins' is on Broadway. For simple folk like me, Poppins in Portland might be just the ticket. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is pedestrian compared to the vocabulary in 'The History Boys.'
'The History Boys' is playing through June 8 at the Artist Repertory Theatre, 1515 S.W. Morrison St. in Portland. Tickets are $20-$47, and can be purchased at 503-241-1278.
Linda Hundhammer, a Lake Oswego resident, writes for the Lake Oswego Review.