Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Only Education Worth Having

The History Boys, redux

Irwin: He was a good man but I do not think there is time for his kind of teaching any more.

Scripps: No. Love apart, it is the only education worth having.

I returned last night to see the current TimeLine Theatre Company production of The History Boys (I had originally seen it the opening weekend) and I came away more impressed than ever. The production is both maturing and evolving and the result is the cast members, the boys especially, are freer and more comfortable in their roles. They seem not even to be acting which is, I guess, the place they want to be. The evening flew by and though it was nearing midnight as the play ended I was ready for more theater. It was that good.

The battle between educational styles, the approaches to teaching of each of the teachers, stood out for me stronger than ever. The foundation is Mrs. Lintott's straightforward approach to teaching history which has produced "well taught" boys, but that is not enough. The headmaster, in his "wisdom" adds into the mix a young teacher just up from Oxford to give the students an "edge". It is his, Mr. Irwin's, method that is the one of paradox and turning the historical facts upside-down, with little regard for the "truth" of the situation that will go to battle with the methods of Hector, the "general studies" teacher who is enlisting the boys into a conspiracy against the world and the "education" they are supposedly receiving.

Mrs. Lintott: They're all clever. I saw to that.
Hector: You give them an education. I give them the wherewithal to resist it.

Scripps: But it's all true.
Irwin: What has that got to do with it? What has that got to do with anything?

With all of this battle of educational styles there is the undercurrent of eroticism, both due to the nature of education itself, as Hector points out, and due to the psychological tensions among Dakin and his two admirers, Posner and Irwin. This combination, which explodes at times to produce riveting moments of theater, is what makes this play great. That and the magnificent literary style of Bennett, the acting of the entire ensemble and the brilliant direction of Nick Bowling. Hats off to all the history boys and their teachers.

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