Before going into its press preview on Tuesday evening, I had never really thought about “The History Boys.” To be honest, upon my arrival to Poulton Hall. I was just worried about making the start of the show after class. But three hours later, I found myself stunned: I was deeply surprised by the emotional depth and perfected delivery of the fall Mask & Bauble production.
“The History Boys” is the name of another play I had heard tossed around among the list of shows I should see before I die, but I never knew the plot. Without revealing anything, I will tell you that the play is set at an English boys’ high school in the 1970s. It centers around one class as they prepare for their entrance exams to college. Audiences are exposed to the various vested interests in the college process, ranging from the prestige-obsessed headmaster to the boys’ favorite professor, who prefers more unconventional lessons that demonstrate how to apply knowledge to life not just on an exam. As the boys prepare for college and are faced with the challenges of adolescence — questioning identities, friendships, religion, sex, uncertainty about the future and the very nature of history itself — the audience becomes caught up in a cycle of intense character development within the pupils and instructors.
The best part of the play was the casting. I had to keep reminding myself that the actors and those who cast them are my peers. Headmaster (Connor Joseph, SFS ’16) is not actually a crotchety old man, Dakin (Taylor Mansmann, COL ’15) is not a cocky high school student and Hector (Adrian Prado, COL ’14) is not really a middle-aged, whimsical teacher. But I swear that when I closed my eyes and opened them again, they were.
Though it was hard to stand out in such a talented cast, Katie Rosenberg (COL ’13) deserves a special shout-out. The only female cast member, she plays Mrs. Lintott, an older female teacher who taught the boys all the facts they know in a regimented way. A tight-lipped yet extremely witty character, “Tottie” smartly asserts women’s presence without domineering or whining. She single-handedly represents strong, relatable women. By the end of the show, I found myself thinking that I, too, may want to be a teacher in a British boys’ school.
The excellent casting and execution created the perfect context for an intense drama. Cast members moved fluidly across all sides of the stage to create different rooms and dynamics within one long, linear space. Their interactions with one another created organic crescendos and decrescendos of thematic tension. At times, the sexual tension was palpable; I felt as if I were a part of deeply intimate moments, (don’t worry though, because besides some of the themes, everything is PG).
A lot of what really made the performance was the attention to detail put in by director Emma Clark (SFS ’13) and producer Allie Van Dine (SFS ’14). From the set to the props to the lighting, all aspects of the show had clearly been deliberately planned to give the audience a particular experience. My favorite touch (aside from the Margaret Thatcher poster on one of the set’s walls) was the beautifully sculpted accents. I’m pretty sure many of the cast members aren’t actually British, but that’s only because I stayed after the show’s end to speak with them. Dialect coach Sophie Guntram (COL ’13) had me quite convinced otherwise.
Even though it’s only mid-October and casting was in the beginning of the school year, it’s obvious how much work everyone has put into this show. When I think about the short time period in which all of my peers put this together, I get a little overwhelmed and want to start planning all of their schedules. Frankly, I don’t know how they stayed sane. It was incredible to see people I had never met excel at something they obviously love.
My only complaint is that the show itself was very, very long. Toward the end of the show, I found myself both extremely emotionally invested in plot as well as concerned about all the homework I thought I was going to have time to do after the performance. I wish I had been better prepared for the deep experience I was going to have. So while I highly encourage everyone who can to attend performances this weekend and next, be aware that this is not a lighthearted show for the faint of heart.
As someone who doesn’t know much about the arts, I have to say this was a fantastic play that will move even the least suspecting viewers. I had never been to a Georgetown performance before this show, but I will definitely be back for more Mask & Bauble productions later on. Still, this play is going to be a hard act to follow.