Schultz as Mrs. Malaprop and Jessica Love as Lydia Languish photo
by Al Foote III
by Eugene Paul
a persistent literary rumor that Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s perilously near
fatuous hit play, The Rivals, was a particular favorite of George
Washington’s. Yes, that George, “The Father of Our Country”. Doesn’t that put
a wrinkle in your American history… There is also another cautionary tale that
young Richard Brinsley Sheridan, desperate for money to continue living among
the swells in Bath, decided that the only way to quick riches and suitable
regard was to write a play, which he had never done before. So he did. The
Rivals. Doesn’t that make you grind your teeth? Gad, if he were still
collecting royalties these 240 years on…
is such a carefully contrived work of artifice that missteps at any point could
bring the whole structure down to abashed rubble. Nevertheless, the intrepid
Pearl Company revel in the play and the revelry is contagious. For the last of
the plays in their thirtieth season, they are staging one of their handsomest
productions, directed by their new artistic director, Hal Brooks and his
stylish hand augurs an auspicious insight into their future. Sheridan’s 240
year old hit is a great favorite with this company and its faithful fans, last
mounted eleven years ago, many of the company appearing in the current
production in different roles with one notable exception: Carol Schultz once
again as Mrs. Malaprop. Priceless.
everyone needs reintroduction to the complications and the characters let us
begin at the most beguiling: Miss Lydia Languish (Jessica Love) an heiress, a
beauty and a nitwit, ready to renounce all for love. Well, almost all, she’s
not a total nitwit, just hopelessly romantic and romance is there in the
strapping, manly, impoverished persona of Ensign Beverly, who is equally,
passionately in love with her, although his esteem for her money is or is not a
factor, all this amorousness unbeknownst to Lydia’s guardian, the formidable
dragon Mrs. Malaprop who expostulates with vigor and inaccuracy on any subject,
much to the bemused consternation of her circle.
unbeknownst to Lydia – there’s a lot of that in this play – is the fact that
Beverly is really Captain Jack Absolute (Cary Donaldson) who assumes the
disguise of Ensign Beverly to appeal to his dreamy lady love’s current passion for
handsome but poor dreamboats. He is actually the wealthy son and heir of Sir
Anthony Absolute (Dan Daily), an obstreperous, gouty windbag who wants his son
to make a good –read “wealthy and positioned” – marriage and has unbeknownst (
yes,yes) to Jack arranged for him to marry the young lady he chooses for Jack.
Who else? Lydia Anguish.
playwright Sheridan (he was only 25 when he wrote this) is just beginning to
amaze us with his youthful cleverness. Jack’s great friend, Faulkland (Brad
Heverlee) is madly in love with Julia Melville (Rachel Botchan) when he is not
suspiciously wary of her reciprocating his love and is thus crazy in love and
crazy out, which he imparts shamelessly to Jack, who knows that Julia is a
close friend of his dear Lydia and thus entwines him in their entwinings and
untwinings. Jack is fortunate to have another friend – patience, patience –
Bob Acres (Chris Mixon), a well to do farmer who is bound and determined to
become a fop and employs the eagerly given advices of Sir Lucius O’Trigger
(Sean McNall) an Irish adventurer, himself out to make a happy – read “wealthy
and positioned” – marriage for himself and thus also has eyes on Lydia,
that about does it. Except for more unbekownsts, some duels, some devoted,
devious servants, some misdirected letters – oh, Artifice, thy name is legion.
Or mish mash?
director Brooks keeps all this elevated folderol admirably clear, right from
the beginning, with equally admirable assistance from set designer Jo
Winiarski, costume designer Sam Flemming and actors Joey Parsons, John C. Egan
and Kambi Gathesha as admirable aiders and abettors to the proceedings. He
also has the blessing of Carol Schultz’s specialty, delivering a Mrs. Malaprop
so auspiciously talking out of the top of her towering wigs that we look
forward to her every mangled word. Dan Daily explodes deliciously. Chris Mixon
is a bedizened ass, and lissome Jessica Love turns Lydia’s asininities into
course, there’s a happen ending. It’s a comedy. The getting there is all.
And the Pearl Company are adept, genuine, British imitators, getting there.
Theatre, 555 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $65. $39 seniors. $20
student rush. $20 Thursday rush. Pearltheatre.org or 212-563-9261.