Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Elden Street Players The History Boys

By • Jun 8th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
The History Boys
Elden Street Players
Industrial Strength Theatre, Herndon, VA
$22/$19 Seniors and Students
Playing through June 27th
Reviewed June 6th, 2009

What kind of insane director takes on a production that calls for a cast of eleven men, eight of them teenagers, and one woman? And not just any cast…one that requires British accents across the board, singing in four part harmony, and actually possessing acting ability? Michael Kharfen. The prominent area actor and director knew that he was in for a challenge, and he rose to the occasion beautifully. The History Boys is wonderfully written, perfectly cast, and executed with sensitivity and radiant intelligence.

Utilizing every inch of space in the black box theatre with simple flats that rotate, the extremely functional set (Kevin Lane) becomes part of the action. Cast members have been intricately choreographed to seamlessly transition from one scene to the next.

The show takes place in 1980s Yorkshire, England, at an all boys exclusive academy where the goal is to get into Oxford or Cambridge for college. The boys are often too smart for their own good, and their teachers are constantly looking for ways to educate and stimulate their impressionable minds. The message here is that learning comes in all forms, and that to teach is not always to educate, and facts don’t always equal wisdom. Two very different professors come together to help the boys pass their college entrance exams, one seeking to inspire, the other wanting tangible results.

At the heart of this production is beloved literature professor, Hector (Don Petersen). Petersen turns in an award-worthy performance, full of joie de vivre (pun intended; he has a classroom scene conducted almost entirely in French!), warmth, and hidden demons. He makes Hector colorful as well as immensely likable. So likable, in fact, that even in light of his indiscretions, one cannot help but find him appealing.

Hans Dettmar as the more rigid Mr. Irwin is strong within his strait-laced and convicted character in Act I, but less assured when dealing with his more human side in Act II. Headmaster (John Barclay Burns) is thoroughly British. Burns embodied the stiff upper lip Brit with grace and just the right droll delivery. Jane McFarlane as lone female instructor Mrs. Lintott shines with her wry wit, shocking language, and perfect comedic timing.

And those are just the adults! The ensemble cast of teens is flawless. Ian Burns, Nathan Williams, Jake Beckhard, and Josh Holober-Ward make each of their cameos memorable. Matt Jackson doesn’t know the meaning of sublety…and that works magic for his overly dramatic and ultimately hilarious character. The audience was in stitches after every one of his scene-stealing moments.

In the more featured roles of Dakin (Brian Garrison), Posner (Miles Butler), and Scripps (Trey Irvine), there is seriously good acting going on here. Irvine plays a Christian in a sea of non-believers, and he infuses his natural style with charm. Garrison is the charismatic pretty boy who seeks to please everyone as well as himself. He is sarcastic and sly, clever though at times unsure of himself, and completely believable. Butler hits heartbreaking notes as Posner, the smallest of the boys, the only Jew, and the one hopelessly in love with Dakin. Using his expressive face and lovely, plaintive voice, Butler creates an awkwardly delightful character that one longs to protect from the harsh realities of life.

They truly had a feeling of camaraderie, youth and fun throughout the show. Their reenactments of little known British films as part of an ongoing contest with Hector were enchanting.

The costumes (Judy Whelihan) are spot on…the uniforms match on the top (blazers and ties) and then fall apart on the bottom with mismatched khakis and scuffed shoes…just as all normal boys’ attire would.

The lighting (Ken & Patti Crowley) is exquisite, creating a lovely aura around the separate monologues. The necessary blackouts are brief, and the color scheme is appropriately inviting. Kevin Garrett’s sound design features fantastic music that captures the feeling of the era as well as England’s culture at the time. Clare Palace did a great job coaching the accents…they were all more than adequate, and they all sounded like they came from different areas of England, which would be the case in a school like this one.

The attention to detail from the cast and production team alike was impressive. It’s this dedication that sets this show apart from others.

The script itself is well written, funny, poignant, terrific…but it runs long. 2.5 hours with intermission wasn’t necessary, and even the brisk pacing and energetic cast couldn’t hide that fact. The ending, touching though it was, was a bit maudlin, and could have been just as effective cut short by about 15-20 minutes.

That said, this was a wholly absorbing show that remained intense and riveting from the metaphorical curtain up to the final curtain call.


  • Mr. Hector: Don Petersen
  • Mr. Irwin: Hans Dettmar
  • Mrs. Lintott: Jane Macfarlane
  • Headmaster: John Barclay Burns
  • Posner: Miles Butler
  • Dakin: Brian Garrison
  • Scripps: Trey Ervine
  • Rudge: Jake Beckhard
  • Timms: Matt Jackson
  • Lockwood: Nathan Williams
  • Akthar: Josh Holober-Ward
  • Crowther: Ian Burns


  • Producer: Rich Klare
  • Director: Michael Kharfen
  • Stage Manager: John Shea
  • Asst Stage Manager: Theresa Bender
  • Set Design: Kevin Lane
  • Set Construction: Michael Schlabach
  • Set Painting: Lorraine Magee
  • Assisted by: Kevin Lane
  • Costume Design: Judy Whelihan
  • Light Design: Ken & Patti Crowley
  • Board Operator: Mary Ann Hall
  • Set Decoration/Set Dressing: Mike Smith
  • Properties: Mike Smith
  • Sound Design: Kevin Garrett
  • Sound Board Operator: Michael O’Connor
  • Dialect Coach: Clare Palace
  • Music Coach: Valerie Higgs
  • Makeup Design: Clare Palace
  • Hair Design: Clare Palace
  • Running Crew: Lil Colquitt
  • House Management: Dave Sinclair
  • Publicity: Rich Klare
  • Playbill: Virginia Kohles and Rich Klare
  • Graphic Design/Photography: Virginia Kohles
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2 Responses »

  1. I REALLY wanna see this show! Very good review 🙂

  2. fantastic show. glad I sa w it. What great performance of the entire cast!Judy Whelihan did a superb job on costuming!