“The History Boys” explored the role that history plays in our lives and our understanding of the world around us. If there was a lesson to be learned from its 2006 Tony Awards success, it seems to have been that the role of history is to star on Broadway.
History plays have a long theatrical past — a fellow named Shakespeare cranked out a few — because audiences can best see their own turbulent times when reflected in a distant mirror.
“People need some space, some breathing room to let the events in a play be part of their lives,” says Bill Haber, who, after producing “The History Boys,” followed it with “Inherit the Wind,” “Coram Boy” and “Journey’s End.”
Seeing the current Broadway lineup of new plays and revivals ought to be worth six credits at any university:
- Helen Edmundson’s “Coram Boy” delves into the British slave trade and the crucial support that composer Handel lent the nation’s first foundling hospital.
- Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia” trilogy traverses the decades of the 19th century with an array of Russia’s intelligentsia, including Karl Marx and Ivan Turgenev.
- Brian Friel’s “Translations” revolves around the imperialistic 19th-century British Ordnance Survey of Ireland.
- R.C. Sherriff’s “Journey’s End” takes audiences into the trenches of World War I.
- Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s “Inherit the Wind” is an attack on McCarthyism disguised as a retelling of the 1925 Scopes trial.
- Peter Morgan’s “Frost/Nixon” relives the televised battle royale between England’s top interviewer and America’s disgraced president.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s quite extraordinary to see this trend crowded into these few streets,” says “Coram Boy” director Melly Still. “It was organic and accidental. There was no meeting with everyone saying, ‘Let’s flood the market with history plays.”