Theater archives

The Film Society Can’t Quite Make the Leap From Past to Present


What happens to a political play that’s three decades old? Can it keep its emotional charge, or does it wither when its social relevance fades? You may be asking these questions after seeing the Keen Company’s revival of The Film Society, a play by Jon Robin Baitz that depicts power struggles in a Durban boys’ school as a microcosm for social tensions gripping 1970s South Africa.

Jonathon (Euan Morton) is a failed actor turned teacher, hoping to shake things up at his old high school by founding a film club. But his colleague Terry (David Barlow) has grander plans for change, shocking the stodgy administration by bringing a priest from the local black community to address the students. Will Jonathon help Terry drag an apartheid-era institution out of the past—or support his mother (Roberta Maxwell), an imperious spokeswoman for the bad old days who’s maneuvering to get him installed as headmaster?

Originally, The Film Society must have been a moving meditation on the forces that keep conservative institutions intact. Those themes remain—and Keen Company’s cast is excellent—but the drama feels dated, its scenes long, its monologues preachy. Like its protagonist, this play means well, but can’t quite make the leap from past to present.