Review of the The Bat’s Office Hours

New York, NY. Last Friday I saw the most recent production of at The Flea Theater, A.R. Gurney’s, Office Hours. Gurney created this play to be staged by the Flea’s resident acting troupe, The Bats.   This run was the play’s world premier and it has done so well that the showing has been extended through November 7th.

Louiza Collins (front), Katherine Folk-Sullivan & John Russo (Photo by Richard Termine).

The play is set in the 1970’s at an unnamed liberal arts college where the University’s “great books education” philosophy is being called into question.   The play progresses as a series of vignettes of interactions among young faculty and between young faculty and their students.   In each scene a different classic book or author is highlighted such as Homer, Dante, or Shakespeare.   The viewer gets a preemptive notice of which book to listen for by the clever type-face projection above the stage.

The show is performed by two different casts of The Bats Theater Company and my showing was performed by the Homer Cast.   Each cast member had an opportunity to play both a student and young professor.     Charles Isherwood, play reviewer for the New York Times who also saw the Homer cast, argued that the young performers where less convincing as professors than as students.

I disagree.   I thought the acting on both sides of the office was very convincing.   When cast as young faculty, the Bats charmingly moved between zealous love for the classics and academic dis-enchantment.   In addition, the players nailed some rather complicated dynamics.   In one scene a young gay student asks his professor (whom he assumes is gay) for guidance about his identity.   In the last scene, Andy Gershenzon and Tommy Crawford share a powerful scene in which a troubled student comes to visit a professor who had once commented favorably on his work.

The acting, direction, and staging were well done.   Even the Flea Theater space was great mix of a larger theater with the styling of a black box.   I look forward to seeing he Bats again and to seeing the more shows at the Flea.

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Tommy Crawford & Turna Mete (Photo by Richard Termine).

 

However, the text of this play left a bit to be desired.     When you’ve written 30 great plays I guess you are allowed to write one that is not as strong.   But, there were a few issues.

The play is a reflection on the changes in our academic traditions over the past few decades.   The show struggles not only with the great books education system but also with the practicality of college education, the rise of women in academia, and those who are left out of higher education.   While the play opens many of the doors it never seems to dig into any of them.

Even the flagship issue of the “great books education” doesn’t seem to get analyzed thoroughly.   The most pro-great books scene features a young girl telling her professors about the joys of reading Thucydides.   However, the dialogue is fraught with trite observation in the vein of “Thucydides was the first historian” and “liberal arts education teaches me how to think!”   Likewise, the anti-great books scene features a feminist making the obvious insight that the canon is full of “dead white men”.   Unfortunately, the analysis never goes that much deeper.   Similarly, the play opens up a couple of different issues whose direction I couldn’t quite pin down.

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Andy Gershenzon, Tommy Crawford, & Turna Mete (Photo by Richard Termine).

 

However, a couple of scenes hilariously caricatured the life of young professors and modern liberal arts.   In the opening scene one professor who has mastered the art of teaching Homer explains to his clueless colleague that the trick is in “BS” and getting the students talking about questions that have no answers.   In another scene two professors explain how they fell madly in love while co-teaching a class on Dante but were eventually reprimanded by the dean.   “We became so enraptured with one another that the students were entirely left out.”

The show runs through November 7th each night at 7pm with 3pm matinee show on Saturday.

The Editors
The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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