When's the last time you saw a revival of Tennessee Williams' Candles to the Sun? Or George Bernard Shaw's Widower's Houses? How about Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All the Luck? There's a very good reason that a playwright's first full-length work tends to gather dust on library shelves. And thus it should have been with Jon Robin Baitz's 1988 drama The Film Society, now given a dutiful but pointless Off Broadway revival by Keen Company.
It's not that the play is bad exactly. It's one of those apprentice works that shows great promise fulfilled, happily, in later plays like The Substance of Fire and Other Desert Cities, as well as in the Baitz-created ABC drama Brothers and Sisters but that now elicits more curiosity than genuine interest.
The setting is a struggling all-white boys school in 1970 South Africa though the actors speak in accents that seem less South African than vaguely continental. Jonathan (Euan Morton), a young alumnus of the school now on the faculty, is an oddly asexual, jellyfish-spined loner who prefers watching old movies in the dark to engaging with his surroundings. That includes his stubborn firebrand of a classmate-turned-colleague, Terry (David Barlow), Terry's sweetly long-suffering but underwritten wife, Nan (Mandy Siegfried), their avuncular, gratuitously anti-Semitic headmaster (Gerry Bamman), and Jonathan's domineering mother (the wonderful Roberta Maxwell), who aims to use the family's cane-farm fortune to advance her son's academic career.
The scenes proceed with straightforwardly if clumsily, building to a series of second-act confrontations that are both schematic and somewhat random. It doesn't help that director Jonathan Silverstein stages the action so dully, with actors either lined up like elementary school pageant participants or left to wander the stage like kindergarteners. (Jonathan must deliver a late speech to Terry and Nan standing between the two, with his head ping-ponging left to right.) This Film Society is best left in the vault. C–
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