A R. Gurney’s “Office Hours” at the Flea is a world premiere, which you couldn’t have guessed from the script. Set in the 1970s, the blessedly brief campus drama (a collection of standalone office scenes strung together) is structured like an old-fashioned “great books” course curriculum, with each short representing a text (Thucydides, Dante, etc.) and a subplot about the course’s impending cancelation that comes to a head at the play’s end. The performances have their moments and Jim Simpson’s direction is frequently adequate, but why eulogize a teaching style that’s been dead for decades and remains mostly unmourned?
Most of the requisite college-story staples are here: the attempted seduction of a student, the attempted seduction of a teacher, the coed who loves both the humanities and her science-geek boyfriend. Some work better than others, with the initial nod to “The Odyssey,” in which we meet an idealistic young prof (John Russo, who fares better than most here), overworked and sleeping over in his colleague’s office, where he pines for his faraway wife and child a la Odysseus.
If the parallels to the Western canon’s milestones were more adroit, this play might work considerably better. But the nods to works like “The Inferno” and “King Lear” are either perfunctory or glib. And ultimately, the play’s point seems to be that the halcyon days of Gen Ed were when we force fed chemistry majors bad translations of epic poetry and preferred James Fenimore Cooper to Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison.
It’s a tough sell, to put it mildly.