Top six forms for ‘The History Boys’ Terrence Nolen, artistic director of the Arden Theater has been expert in scaling down musicals for more theatrical punch, but he shows equal skill with drama with a finely tuned version of Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’
As good as the acting was in the film version of ‘The History Boys’ there seemed to be something big missing and after seeing the untruncated version you find out what. Bennett has written a complex and wordy classic to be played by a tight ensemble of actors onstage.
Bennett’s British boys are on the brink of manhood as they are being groomed for Oxford in an undistinguished prep school in Northern England in the 80s, They are under the spell of nonconformist aesthetician, Hector (Frank X in a pitch perfect performance) who wants them to discover their inner lives as well as the classics. They are also under the practical instruction of Dorothy Lintott (Maureen Torsney-Weir, puts it all in perspective) who has to as she puts it she has to “teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude.” Academic strategist Irwin (Matthew Amendt) is brought in to toughen them up for admission into Oxford.
Bennett’s heady dialogue, loaded with literary and historical banter is tightly paced by Nolen, who keeps everybody moving physically when they aren’t engaging in intellectual jousting. Evan Jonigkett is the manipulative Dakin, who seduces physically and intellectually, and again turns in another deft performance.
Michael Doherty is the unashamed ’nancy’ boy who is open about being in love with him and camps it up singing Edith Piaf songs (to his mates’ (and the audience’s delight). All of the actors have great moments and some are priceless, like the intellectual scrapper Rudge, who gets the biggest laugh of the evening by telling the college Dons that “History is just one fucking thing after another.”