(from Left to Right): Henry Stram, Nadine Malouf, Christian
Conn, Christian DeMarais, Ramsey
Credit: Carol Rosegg
by Deirdre Donovan
There’s a scandal brewing at the Lucille Lortel Theater. And anybody who wants
to learn who the latest victim is--deserved or not—should head downtown and
catch the wickedly delicious revival of The School for Scandal, courtesy
of the Red Bull Theater Company. Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s
comedy of manners gets new legs and a fine cast that gloriously kicks the dust
off the old classic.
:Christian DeMarais, Henry Stram and Christian Conn
plot revolves around scandal with a capital “S” -- and those scandal-mongers
who create it, circulate it, and, oops, sometimes become its latest casualty.
We meet Sir Oliver Surface (Henry Stram), returning home after living 16-years
abroad, to test the moral character of his nephews, the supposedly upright
Joseph (Christian Conn) and the reprobate Charles (Christian Demarais).
Mark Linn-Baker and Helen Cespedes,
also rub shoulders with his old friend Sir Peter Teazle (Mark Linn-Baker) and
his new young wife Lady Teazle (Helen Cespedes), country-born but who takes to
high society like a duck to water.
(from Left to Right): Dana Ivey, Frances Barber,
also the young widow Lady Sneerwell (Frances Barber), her hireling Snake (Jacob
Dresch), Lady Candour (Dana Ivey), Sir Benjamin Backbite (Ryan Garbayo), his
uncle Crabtree (Derek Smith), Careless (Garbayo again), Sir Toby Bumper
(Bradley Gibson), Midas (Smith again), and Trip (Ben Mehl), all who live up to
their slick and slithery names. Add in the heiress Maria (Nadine Malouf),
Master Ranji (Ramsey Fargallah), Rufus, William and Hastings (Mehl again) and
you have all those in the swim of this whirling fishbowl world.
action zigs and zags through London, starting at Lady Sneerwell’s house,
shifting to Sir Peter’s house, onward to Charles Surface’s house and Joseph
Surface’s library, before doubling back to Sir Peter’s. But no matter where
scandal is lighting down for a spell, or which of the characters are indulging
in its poison, one can expect to be privy to the backstairs work in this
back-biting world—and gain some wisdom on human nature to boot.
gossip, the labyrinthine plot doesn’t so much proceed as explode with
revelations about the various characters. And who holds the moral
high-ground—and who doesn’t--lends the play its ever-fluctuating dramatic
energy. The real fun, of course, is witnessing the rug being pulled out from
beneath the feet of several principals and seeing through the hypocrisy of
their faux virtue. True, the plot is at times difficult to follow. But even
if you temporarily get confused, no worries. You can always pick up its thread
in the next beat or two. No doubt the play carries the stamp of Sheridan’s genius and is studded with his brilliant language that will pull you in time and
all means, don’t neglect to thumb through the program. It’s a treasure trove
of information on the author, his 1777 masterpiece, and the 18th
century world he inhabited. Among other things, you learn that Sheridan was born in Dublin in 1751 and arrived in the world in the same decade as
Alexander Hamilton, who was born in the West Indies in 1755. And it’s no
accident that the title of Sheridan’s comedy echoes Moliere’s The School for
Wives (1662). Sheridan was actually nodding to his predecessor‘s notable
accomplishment and at the same time carving out his own niche in theater. And
if you want an instant snapshot of Sheridan as a playwright, look no further
than James Gillray’s cartoon artfully included in the program’s timeline of
events that span from 1751 to 1816. It caricatures the playwright as a bottle
of sherry that when uncorked, bursts forth invectives and puns.
Vietor, who directs, assembles a cast that obviously feels right at home with
comedy a la Sheridan. Special notice belongs to Mark Linn-Baker, as the
graying Sir Peter Teazle, and Helen Cespedes, as his young country wife Lady
Teazle. Both are splendid playing opposite each other, deftly revealing their
character’s quirks and the inherent pitfalls of being in a spring-autumn
marriage. Other actors who pull their dramatic weight are Frances Barber as
Lady Sneerwell, Dana Ivey as Lady Candour, Jacob Dresch as Snake, Christian
Demarais as Charles Surface, and Nadine Malouf as Maria. Not only do they ably
impersonate their respective characters, but they have them dish out the dirt
creative team ensures that Sheridan’s masterpiece retains its vital ingredients
without making it come across like a museum piece. Andrea Lauer’s set evokes
the 18th-century with a few quaint pieces of furniture and décor.
Andrea Lauer’s period costumes are a mix of buttoned-up and starchy suits for
the men, petticoats and lace for the women, with a more rakish outfit for the
prodigal Charles. When it comes to be-wigging the dramatis personae, Charles
G. Lapointe comes through with stylish curls and waves that look right for Sheridan’s day. In short, the creatives bolster the plot, reinforce the action, and
underscore the play’s central themes of hypocrisy (think Joseph Surface),
defamation of character (nobody in the play’s world is immune from malicious
tongue-wagging), and steadfast integrity (think Maria).
else to say? Just that Sheridan’s School for Scandal is an oldie but
goodie. Don’t miss this opportunity to see this hugely entertaining classic
where injurious gossip is the game--and goes on and on and on. The play was an
instant success when it opened at Drury Lane Theatre on May 8th,
1777. And, as currently reincarnated by the Red Bull Theater company, it’s
just as intoxicating today.
the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, Manhattan.
more information, phone(212) 352-3101 or visit online www.RedBullTheater.com
time: 2 hours; 20 minutes with intermission.