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« Win a Signed "Elle"Poster!| Main| Tree of Life Revisited »
Monday
Nov 21 2016

Stage Door: "Dead Poet's Society"

Andy Warhol's prescient statement 'in the future,everyone will be famous for 15 minutes' has been requoted to death.If he had been even more specific in his prophesies he could have added '...and every movie made in the 80s and 90s movie will become a stage play.' The latest film to make the jump is Peter Weir's boy's school dramaDead Poet's Societywhich was a big hit with the public and Oscar in 1989.For those who've never seen it (I'm sure you're out there somewhere) Robin Williams plays an unconventional teacher who convinces high school boys to "carpe diem / seize the day!"but this inspirational message has unintended tragic consequences when one boy's dream (Robert Sean Leonard) clashes with his reality in the form of a disapproving father.In the new play film actors Jason Sudeikis and Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,The Stanford Prison Experiment) get those two marquee roles...

The Classic Stage Company production is low-key,funny,swift (performed without an intermission) and well staged with minimalist flair.The actors use books pulled from a beautifully full bookshelf backdrop as chairs and desks and whatnot throughout the play.Tom Schulman,who won the Oscar for his original screenplay,adapted his own work for the stage so,as you might surmise,it's very faithful.Sudeikis wisely avoids trying to imitate Robin Williams very famous performance and brings his own far less manic charisma to the iconoclastic teacher role.If he doesn't manage as much depth,he does keeps it running smoothly and brings good non-derivative laughs.

Less succesful is the pacing and the individual dramatic arcs of the schoolboys.Thomas Mann's tragic arc is the weak link and that's a major problem given the weight placed on his character's journey in the narrative.(Not that that narrative was ever anything less than problematic -- even in the movie).Mann doesn't play enough notes but the larger problem is the play's insistence on speed;that character needs time to ache and his finale sequence is confusingly staged.One of the film's best sequences,an improvised poetry challenge in which Ethan Hawke beautifully captures the nervous cornered panic of a talented insecure student,doesn't work as well without the benefit of the tight close-up.Much more succesful is the film's throwaway subplot about the student who just wants a date with his local dreamgirl.William Hochman really sells it with infectious first love exuberance on stage.In fact,any time the play is working with the students as a hyper unit,it's a wonderful time.

All in in all it's a solid entertainment at the theater and a good reminder of a message that always bears repeating but unfortunately it's no match for the well-loved movie.

the current stage castThe movie cast featured early work from future stars Robert Sean Leonard,Ethan Hawke,and Josh Charles

The Classic Stage Company production of Dead Poets Societyruns through December 11th.

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Reader Comments (4)

Can u guys review Terms of Enderment too?Lol i can't even imagine

November 22,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Count me among the few who've never seen the film version,though I'd love to see my boo Jason Sudeikis live and in person.

November 22,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

The stage actor holding the book in front of the chalkboard has Edward Norton hair,which made me wonder what the movie might have been like if Edward Norton were in it.He'd probably be a quiet student who misinterprets Carpe Diem and ends up killing Robert Sean Leonard's character to save him from depression.

November 22,2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

I've never seen this one either.I also have never seen Jurassic Park or Forrest Gump.

For movies that have seemingly all the young actors of an era,there's also "School Ties".

November 23,2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

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