Author: Kelly Neukom
I am sick of school. It’s almost time for finals and, as much as I know my upcoming exams and essays will educate me and help me become a more well-rounded person, I feel like setting fire to all of my notes and dumping them out of my second-story window.So it was very refreshing to finally see a story about school that isn’t afraid to poke fun at the educational system and reveal its many pitfalls along the way. The History Boys is a play set in the early 1980s in Sheffield, England, based on the relationship between a teacher and a classroom of high school boys. No, this isn’t just a remake of sappy inspirational teaching stories like Dead Poets Society or Mona Lisa Smile. Rather, the play cuts down the laurel-wreathed image of learning that so many place on a pedestal. Biting one-liners like “literature is about losers” and “history is just one fucking thing after another” will make even the most jaded theater-goer laugh out loud. There are points when you realize how long ago two decades was (scene changes are accompanied by Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”), but the script is one of the most accurate I’ve seen in showing what high school students really talk about. The characters here aren’t afraid to lament over exams, tear down their teachers behind their backs or boast to each other about their sexual conquests. Being quite the Anglophile, I already knew that this play had been put on in London before being turned into a movie (which I have seen twice). Because of this, I couldn’t help put compare it to the movie. The English accents of the actors were pretty much spot-on, with even the jock of the group spouting the perfect working-class accent. I liked the headmaster character and ringleader boy Dakin much more in the play. The former was just simply funnier, and the latter was extremely good-looking and more poised than the movie actor. The successful casting of Dakin convinced me that others would follow him-his charm seemed a lot more bewitching than that of the character in the movie. The gay student Posner wasn’t as good in the play, though. The movie actor played him with a sweetness and innocence that was very believable. The play actor practically turned him into Jack from “Will and Grace.” He seemed way too eager to push the stereotype to its extreme. The actor playing the teacher Hector was just as good as his movie counterpart, with enough joking, grandfatherly bravado to fill up an entire stage during his classroom scenes.In a charming way, the play seemed a bit out-of-place in LA. Having studied abroad in England for six months, I knew to laugh when Hector made fun of Welsh accents and when the headmaster admitted he went to Hull University (a poorly regarded school in England). Most of the other audience members didn’t get it, which became apparent to me when the bejeweled lady next to me leaned over and whispered, “Did he say he went to Harvard?” This otherness was also apparent when an entire scene was spoken in French. British people usually learn French when they’re young, whereas the foreign language of choice here in L.A. is Spanish. About half of the audience seemed to laugh only when they heard other people laugh. I was following the lead of my friend beside me. She is practically fluent in French, while I know about as much as one could learn from a Pepe LePew cartoon.However, seeing the play in L.A. provided opportunities you can’t get in London, like spotting B-list actors in the wings (my friend pointed out Camryn Manheim of The Practice fame) and observing the facelifts of audience members. The production is being put on at Ahmanson Theater in downtown L.A., about 15 minutes away (barring traffic). You can buy tickets at www.centertheatregroup.org. Although the $8 parking fee was pretty steep, it’s set in a beautiful area of the city at the foot of lighted skyscrapers, next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. If you have extra time before or after the show, you can even go to the concert hall and walk the aerial walkway for free.
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