Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Film Society **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
When first produced, this play put the then 25-year-old Jon Robin Baitz firmly on the list of promising young American playwrights. Now, roughly 25 years later, the Keen Company has revived it. The setting is Blenheim School for Boys in Durban, South Africa in 1970, a prep school that has passed its prime. Its facilities are crumbling and its senior staff are plagued by such illnesses as spinal cancer and vision problems. A metaphor for the British Empire perhaps, or white rule under apartheid? The central character is the slightly effete Jonathon Balton (Euan Morton), who graduated from and now teaches at Blenheim and is faculty sponsor of weekly film screenings for the boys. Jonathon's closest friends since childhood as well as faculty colleagues are Terry Sinclair (David Barlow) and his wife Nan (Mandy Siegfried). When Terry invites a black speaker to a school event, he precipitates a crisis that puts his and his wife's careers in jeopardy. Other characters include headmaster Neville Sutter (Gerry Bamman), reactionary faculty member Hamish Fox (Richmond Hoxie) and Jonathon's manipulative mother (Roberta Maxwell), who uses her pursestrings to advance her son's career. Jonathon is reluctantly pushed into the spotlight where his mettle is put to the test. He has a long, dramatic monologue near play's end that, to me, did not ring true. The three actors playing the younger generation of teachers did not seem fully up to the task, particularly Siegfried, who seemed a bit wooden. The fact that Jonathan Silverstein's direction leaves her standing like a tree throughout a few speeches did not help. Steven C. Kemp's efficient tripartite set is complemented by a symbolic backdrop of African textile designs peeking through a flaking Union Jack. Jennifer Paar's costumes seemed appropriate. It was good to get a look at Baitz's early work, even in this less than ideal production. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

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