CLASS ENEMY, Red Hen Productions, at the Athenaeum Theatre. It was 20 years ago that Next Theatre gave British playwright Nigel Williams’s 1976 slice of rage its pile-driving local premiere. Now it’s time for another generation to feel the unprocessed pain of this unrelenting drama. Red Hen’s revival confirms the play’s power–and reflects the current state of our schools.

Penned up in a bookless London classroom and abandoned by their teacher, five working-class boys are forced to teach themselves, delivering impromptu lessons on sex, gardening, smashing windows, making bread-and-butter sandwiches, street fighting, and how the blacks are responsible for all their problems. Slowly friction builds between the few students who are still hopeful and Iron, the cowardly but intellectually gifted thug who bullies them.

Steve Scott’s careful staging is like a rap sheet. Bruch Reed is a sex-obsessed follower, R.J. Jones pathetic as a window-breaking tagger, and Brian Hamman full of punk bluster as a racist slob. Playing a comparatively decent bloke, Joe Sikora gives a wonderful speech on how to protect a geranium from marauding cats. Brian LeTraunik is dignity under fire as the easy target persecuted by Iron for caring about the world, and John Green is a schoolmaster whose indifference is worse than hate. But easily the most dynamic–and difficult–role is Christian Kohn’s as the exhaustingly explosive Iron. Sadly, on opening night Kohn ran out of steam for his final confession, which seemed dragged out and heavy-handed. But if that can be heated up, the play’s triumph will be complete.

–Lawrence Bommer