Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dead Poets Society ** C-

One of the mini-trends of the current season is the adaptation of award-winning films into plays. First there was Terms of Endearment (which I have not seen) and now this Classic Stage Company production based on the 1989 film which starred Robin Williams and included a trio of young actors (Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles) who went on to successful careers. I hope this trend of recycling movies is nipped in the bud. While there have been many films that were turned into successful musicals, adapting a movie for the stage without musicalizing it doesn’t seem to add any value. In this case, even though the adaptation was done by the screenwriter, Tom Schulman himself, who has trimmed over 20 minutes from the film, the result is a Cliff Notes version that came across to me as bland and pointless. Jason Sudeikis is fine as the charismatic English teacher who urges the preppies in his class at Welton Academy to seize the day. The six young men who play the students (Zane Pais, Thomas Mann, Cody Kostro, Bubba Weiler, William Hochman and Yaron Lotan) are also very good. David Garrison is effective as the headmaster, Paul Nolan. Stephen Barker Turner does his best with the one-note role of Mr. Perry, whose demands on his son provoke a crisis, and Francesca Carpanini looks pretty as the love interest of one of the students. Their valiant efforts were largely sunk by the play’s blandness. Even the ending misfires: after disappearing from the stage for several minutes, Sudeikis briefly returns, but his reappearance has little impact. John Doyle’s direction is mostly straightforward, the main quirk being that books pulled off the library shelves are used in place of classroom furniture. Scott Pask’s attractive set features a library wall of books, complete with rolling ladder. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes looked right for 1959. Japhy Weideman’s lighting and Matt Stine’s sound design are quite effective. All this effort seems misguided as the play itself has so little point to it. Running time: 90 minutes; no intermission.

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