- The History Boys, at the Beck Center.
The History Boys — Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play in 2006, The History Boys centers around eight scholars who are getting ready for their university entrance exams. These fellows, for the most part terrifyingly bright, are overseen by the requisite stern headmaster, Felix Armstrong (a fine Michael Regnier). But the boys' true mentor is Hector, a charmingly eccentric teacher who bends his inventive lesson plans to suit the mood of the day. Into the mix is thrown Irwin, a young teacher whom Armstrong has brought in to help give the boys an edge in their university application techniques. Director Sarah May is unsurpassed in shaping and pacing a play to reveal the meaning at its heart, and her work here is simply stunning. As Hector, Dana Hart is the embodiment of a fiercely independent professor. Also excellent is Dan Folino as the contrarian Irwin, challenging the boys to think differently if not necessarily better. Eric Fancher gives confident Dakin a sly boyish grace, while Matthew Martin Thomas, as the sexually insecure Posner, grapples with his attraction to Dakin. Other standouts include Max Chernin as Timms, Adam Day Howard as Scripps, and Stuart Hoffman as the scholastically challenged jock Rudge. Through March 30 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave, Lakewood, 216-521-2540. — Christine Howey
Holes — Written by Louis Sachar, who won awards for the novel and Disney movie adaptation of the same name, this theatrical version fails to sort out the multiple story lines and eccentric flourishes that made the book and flick so enjoyable. Stanley Yelnats (that's Stanley spelled backward) has been sent to a detention camp in the desert for supposedly stealing a pair of super-expensive athletic shoes. He struggles to ingratiate himself with the other young dudes incarcerated there, where they all share the daily chore of digging holes in the desert. Stanley believes his family is cursed because his great-great-grandfather pissed off a gypsy fortune-teller, Madame Zeroni. So we have flashback scenes involving her that don't really track, since the cinematic touches that help explicate time and place in the movie aren't available on stage. Adding to the lack of clarity is director Hassan Rogers' decision to cast the entire show with young, college-age actors, who give the production the feel of an extended skit put on by a group of enthusiastic day-camp counselors. In the role of Stanley, hefty Ethan Rosenfeld has a fairly interesting vibe, when he isn't staring at the floor. But Rogers imposes little discipline on his young players, which leads to slack pacing and many interchanges that feel improvised (not in a good way). The lone exception is Durand Ferebee, as delinquent Zigzag, who is lithe and funny, and probably deserves his own show. Through April 6 at the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street, 216-795-7077. — Howey