Hector is not just an inspiring teacher, however. He's also a lonely, regretful, sexually confused man whose peculiarities of behavior, which shouldn't be divulged in a review, profoundly affect how the ensuing con- flict unfolds.
Matthews, who's so moving in his emotionally wrought discussion of the way literature can be as if "a hand has come out and taken yours," seems confounded by his character's more questionable extracurricular proclivities. And the clumsy scene in which he's called on the carpet by the headmaster fails to enlighten us.
Paige brings to light the repression underlying Irwin's mix of diffidence and driven determination. Too bad his accent and manner wobble, but then, of the principals, only Cornwell, who was born in England, has the external trappings comfortably under control.
All is forgiven, however, when class is in session and the production jolts to life. Of the students, Brett Ryback as Scripps, the God-worshiping boy who offers narration and piano accompaniment as needed, and Numrich's struttingly charismatic Dakin are the most vividly convincing, while Brightman's Posner, forever mooning over Dakin, has the funniest lines.
The "sheer calculated silliness," as Hector describes his less traditional teaching practices, of Bennett's provocative meditation coaxes us into contemplating what we're meant to take away from our school days, that fate-changing period of our always-present past.
'The History Boys'
Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions.
Ends: Dec. 9
Price: $20 to $80
Contact: (213) 628-2772, www.center theatregroup.org
Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes