'Dead Poets Society' Makes It To The Stage
Romantics will find much to embrace in writer Thomas Schulman’s stage adaptation of the 1989 film he wrote, “Dead Poets Society,” receiving its world premiere production at Off Broadway’s Classic Stage Company. Director John Doyle’s clever, simple-truths staging beguiles audiences much in the same way English teacher John Keating, portrayed here by Jason Sudeikis in a remarkable performance, leaves a mark on his impressionistic students with his motto of “Carpe diem!” Problem is, what we’re seeing is the same script, still with its inspirational intentions but also with its flaws of underwritten characters, villainous antagonists and easy sentimentality.
But just as many were moved by the Peter Weir film and the dazzling performance of Robin Williams as the unconventional instructor at a boys prep school in the 1950s, many will be touched by this production, too. Audiences’ inherent affection for the property — matched with the efficient single-set staging and the heart-tugs of the story — will no doubt make it a popular title at theaters around the country.
Comparisons are inevitable with the beloved film, which helped launch the careers of Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Josh Charles, and earned Schulman an Oscar and Williams an acting nomination.
In the role of Keating, Sudeikis is terrific, with his own comic rhythms, easygoing naturalism and subversive charm that’s in a class by itself. His sly, low-key, off-syllabus approach works for the audience as well as the students, whom he gradually turns from pressured overachievers to independent thinkers and free-spirits, encouraging them to release their inner poet, artist, lover and rebel in an era that rewards those who follow the rules.