By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The actors playing the grown-ups don't get such high marks, unfortunately. They fumble their English accents and lack physical dynamism. As Irwin, David Plunkett gets a low C-minus for letting his British pronunciations slip and speaking lines stiffly and with unconvincing emotion. Playing the headmaster, Rick Espaillat is simply out of his range, terribly miscast in a role that needed a much stronger actor. As the only woman on the faculty, Wendy Welch delivers one major bit of oratory in the second act—a rant about the omission of women's contributions to history—but she relays it crisply and rigidly, like Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins.
Bradley Campbell uses his girth to good effect as Hector, and he handles the speeches adequately. But he sometimes runs out of steam, disappearing in the presence of the feisty younger players. His Hector does come to the fore when defending old-school ways of instilling a love of learning: "The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours."
And the best moments in live theater are when you come across a play with so much to say about so many interesting subjects as The History Boys. Winner of Tonys and Oliviers for its Broadway and London productions (the stage cast also starred in the 2006 film version), it already feels like a classic, with a relevance that has a wide reach. Schools on both sides of the Atlantic now, sadly, prefer Irwins over Hectors. Teaching to the test trumps engagement of the intellect. And no one memorizes Auden anymore.