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New theater group pulls bait and switch

Audiences at Production Workshop on Wednesday night were expecting to see critically acclaimed English playwright Alan Bennett's "The History Boys," which won the Tony for Best Play in 2006. The play began as they had anticipated - with English accents, schoolboy uniforms and an eccentric, tweed-clad professor. But after two scenes of these antics, it abruptly turned into something else and never looked back.

As cliche as it might sound, the best way to describe the Brown Undergraduate Dramatic Society's debut performance is with the Monty Python quote: "And now for something completely different."

This performance may have been disappointing for viewers expecting a serious or substantive theatrical experience, but otherwise it was thoroughly enjoyable for its comic absurdity.

BUDS-no connection to Brown University Dining Services-was created by high school classmates Sam Alper '11, Justin Kuritzkes '12, Drew Foster '12 and Max Grey '12 over the summer because, as Alper explained, "we have like-minded views of the certain kinds of theater that we want put on."

By "like-minded views," Alper meant "bringing in shows that are making a splash in the general theater world but aren't necessarily getting the same attention at a university level."

"Brown has a very vibrant theater scene," he added, "and we want Brown to check the heartbeat of the world on these issues."

Alper told The Herald before opening night that he thought this production would surprise audiences. He said he hoped that "Brown is ready for the craziness we are going to unleash on them. And that everybody comes away having had a good time with the show."

The show began with two well-acted scenes from the actual "The History Boys," one of which was entirely in French. Then, an actress planted in the audience jumped on stage, loudly clapping and praising the brilliance of the show so far. After requesting a picture with the cast, she proceeded to take over as a new director.

The actors left their British schoolboy characters behind to briefly just be themselves, and what followed was a series of independent and increasingly ridiculous vignettes. Two college guys discovered their wardrobe was in fact a portal to Narnia. Spoken word poet Phil Kaye '10 recited a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem while wearing a costume in the shape of the "shocker" gesture. Rafael Cebrian '11 performed a dance to a song about balls. There was a stand-up comedy routine. There were robots. A dance party to Gnarls Barkley's song "Crazy." And a lot of Parmesan cheese.

If it sounds weird and a little confusing, well, it was. With no signal as to what would come next, "The History Boys" was a fast-paced, hour-long show of hilarious surprises, both clever and juvenile, that left the audience wondering "what is going on?"

Perhaps one of the strangest scenes featured Alper and Kaye in an ambiguously homoerotic scene in which they stood on the stage, without speaking, and undressed. If the silence wasn't weird enough, the two were revealed to be wearing bras under their shirts. After taking off each other's bras, the now shirtless guys walked away from each other to the beat of slow, techno music while casting longing glances over their shoulders. Then it ended.

Most of the play went on like this. The ensemble cast had the audience laughing at the ludicrous scenes they concocted. The actors' ease and camaraderie worked well in both the opening schoolboy scenes and the sketch comedy scenes. The comfort the actors seemed to have with each other on and off stage helped guide the audience through the bewildering production and, according to Alper, led to a very collaborative process of directing and creating the show.

"Four of us split the directorial role, which doesn't always work, but because of the ensemble nature of the show and our comfort with each other, seemed to work really well for this particular situation," he said.

But besides a good laugh, the purpose or meaning of the BUDS performance remains foggy.

In the show's penultimate scene, planted audience members announced that they had "bombs" under their seats. Confetti flew, lights flashed and pounding music amped up the confusion as cast and audience members flailed about on the stage and in the aisles. It ended abruptly as one audience member stood, frozen in a spotlight and said with a heart-wrenching sigh, "I thought I was going to see 'The History Boys.' And now I'm going to die."

BUDS plans to put on one more production this semester: Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County." But in light of the group's "interpretation" of "The History Boys," audiences should perhaps not hope to see very much of Letts' actual work.


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