Thursday, June 29, 2006

WELCOME -- THE HISTORY BOYS

Behold my blog. I'll be writing on movies, theatre, books, whatever I feel like writing about. Expect a lot about movies.

But I'll start off with a review of a play. Last night, my partner and I saw THE HISTORY BOYS, the Tony-winning play by Alan Bennett. I can't say I was terribly impressed. I was actually very disappointed. It was never bad enough for me to get up and leave, never good enough to make me glad I was there. The occasional "witty" line, but the whole thing felt very self-serving, self-congratulatory, and mechanical.

The reviews I've read seem to think the play is a sort of battle of wills between Hector, played by Richard Griffiths, and another teacher whose name escapes me, played by an actor whose name escapes me, for the souls of a group of boys doing an intensive cram session for their college boards. Hector supposedly represents the joy of learning for its own sake, while the other guy is all about passing the tests by any means necessary, history truth beauty be damned. The titular boys are a pretty mixed bag, but the play eventually sort of focusses on three of them: The Cute One, The Religious One, and The Gay One. The Gay One, of course, is hopelessly and predictably in love with The Cute One. The Religious One serves as occasional narrator, and plays the piano very nicely, most memorably accompanying The Gay One on a very nice rendition of "Bewitched Bothered And Bewildered," but that's about it. There's a Fat One, too.

Richard Griffiths was very good, he was definitely on last night. Frances De La Tour, as another faculty member, has lots of good lines and knows how to deliver them, but her role doesn't really amount to much. She feels rather shoehorned into the story, mainly so that the women in the audience can have someone to identify with. It gets rather cloying, though, and I was frankly annoyed by her little speech about history being all about men's failures: it felt entirely too much as if Bennett had suddenly decided to pander to the women in the audience to keep them from finding the play a bore. A more interesting female character might have been Hector's wife, but that would have gone into territory that Mr. Bennett isn't going to touch, as it might be something irresolvable with a witty one-liner, and would have shifted the focus away from the Boys.

I found a lot of the production to be clumsy. Way too much shuffling around with the set between scenes, with elaborate video sequences specially designed to distract us from all the activity. If they'd cut the videos and streamlined the transitions, a good 45 minutes could have been trimmed, and the evening could use some good streamlining.

One of the major plot points is Hector's unfortunate habit of fondling his students. There is a daily tradition of Hector giving one of the boys a ride home on his motorcycle, during which ride Hector apparently feels the boy up. Mr. Bennett and his play bend over backward to present this as a harmless eccentricity, but it just doesn't wash. Sorry, I don't have a problem with someone losing their job for groping students. And I found myself wondering about the simple mechanics of it. We're supposed to believe that the morbidly obese Hector plays with the genitals of students sitting behind him on a motorcycle. In broad daylight. At a public intersection. Every day. And only a woman behind the counter in a thrift shop notices.

Well...

And I was not happy with the tragic fates of the gay characters. One dead, one in a wheelchair, one a housebound emotional cripple, while the straight folks all live (more or less, this is Alan Benett's universe after all) happily and wealthily ever after. And people bitched about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN perpetuating the myth of gayness as misery?

To be fair, I have been wondering if one viewing is enough for this play. There does seem to be a lot going on, and it is always possible that there are things that an American will just plain miss. I'll wait for the film before finally deciding how I feel about it.

Voila. My first blog post. Come back for more. Let me know what you think. If you agree, let me know. If you disagree, let me know. Maybe I'll learn something.

2 comments:

Pooji said...

You are off to an excellent start! I look forward to more insightful writing.

Roger said...

Baby, you're the first one to speak the truth about that dumb play. Mr. Bennett makes Terrence Rattigan look like a genius.

If you see the movie and change your mind, you can go fuck yourself.

In the meantime, I love you.