Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the February 21,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `School for Scandal’
Don’t be dismayed if you can’t recall whether it is
"The School for Scandal," "The School for Husbands,"
or "The School for Wives" that you have enjoyed and laughed
through each time you have seen it. The thing to know — besides
the fact that all three are comic masterpieces and timeless social
satires — is that the latter two are by the 17th-century French
playwright Moliere (aka Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) whereas "The
for Scandal" was written by the 18th-century English playwright
Richard Brinsley Sheridan. School dismissed. Not so fast. "The
School for Scandal" is currently in session at the McCarter
where some very posy and artful actors are busy flirting, flinging
mud, and flitting about in yards of ruffles and lace while trying
to maintain the integrity of their two-centuries removed characters.
Under the direction of Mark Lamos, previously represented at McCarter
in 1998 with Shakespeare’s "Cymbeline," the production offers
substantial proof that he is no stranger to Sheridan’s play. He played
Sir Benjamin Backbite in Michael Langham’s production at the Guthrie
Theater in Minneapolis in 1974. Now his own staging is infused with
assured elegance and a respect for the play’s classical tradition.
If there is a potpourri of styles and sensibilities expressed in
Michael Yeargan’s whimsical on-the-fly settings — a dash of
here and a splash of retro-Restoration there — the trappings
steer clear of competition with the drop-dead-gorgeous apparel
by Jess Goldstein, who has emphasized to breathtaking effect for our
pleasure candy-colored satin stripes, floral brocades, and enormous
hats. The costumes are a show in themselves.
Perhaps what I missed in Lamos’ ravenously sentimental
staging, from opening to closing tableaux vivants, were a few more
larger-than-life characters. Would that I were as easily amused by
the humanly connived as I am by the inhumanly contrived. The show’s
premier jolt of personality-plus comes from Stephen Rowe as a
Crabtree. This gossip reveals volumes with the incessant activity
of his darting, lizard-like tongue and ever-pursing lips.
The in-your-face plot revolves around the moneyed and middle-aged
Sir Peter Teazle (David Cromwell) and his vexation with the
with society of Lady Teazle (Margaret Welsh), his much younger country
bride. Her specific flirtation is with the comely young and unattached
Joseph Surface (Robert Cuccioli), whose ally Lady Sneerwell (Vivienne
Benesch) has her eye on Joseph’s younger brother Charles (Clarke
who, in turn, goes gaga over Maria (Tara Falk), Sir Peter’s niece
and ward. Pounds of rouge and mascara begin to cake when Lady
instigates a smear campaign against Charles to sour and stop Maria’s
interest in him. With the further involvement of Mrs. Candour
Hugot) and Sir Benjamin Backbite (Jeff Woodman), who add their own
devastating venom to the witty torrent of gossip-mongering, the play
becomes a vicious game of societal stalking, snooping, and spying
into everyone’s private affairs.
The cast, many of whom will be familiar to McCarter audiences
Cromwell, Hugot, Ryland, Welsh, and Woodman), are pleasurably
into this sea of slander. Benesch, who appeared on Broadway in Lamos’
production of Terrence Rattigan’s "The Deep Blue Sea," and
was last seen at the McCarter in "The Matchmaker," has the
sneer of Lady Sneerwell down pat. Cromwell, whose most recent Broadway
appearance was in "The Scarlet Pimpernel," is a wonderfully
droll and temperate Sir Peter — and was clearly the audience
"Jekyll and Hyde’s" Cuccioli, who has recently become one
of New Jersey’s more conspicuous resident actors ("Enter The
at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival and "Victor/Victoria,"
at Paper Mill Playhouse) continues to amaze, as he demonstrates here
how naturalness of behavior need be no threat to high comedy, nor
is that discreet beauty mark a threat to his virility.
Lamos has chosen not to explore the atypical or
in this production. And he sees to it that we are, at the very least,
sympathetic towards Sir Peter Teazle as he wrangles with his child
bride. His choices help us identify with these "unconscionable
dogs" and "daughters of calumny" that Sheridan satirically
skewers with wit, spit, and polish. It takes a particular style and
skill to keep Sheridan’s glittering dialogue from lapsing into an
overdressed convention of relentless boors and tiresome
Here Lamos provides the style and skill needed to buoy the play
all the snuffing, snooping, and raising of eyebrows during quaint
I especially liked Marceline Hugot who invests the role of the gossipy
Mrs. Candour with just the right degree of surface pretensions without
slipping into gross caricature. Also funny is John Keating as Snake,
whose stiff and coiled pigtail seems always ready to strike. Jack
Ryland gives us a wry and wise Sir Oliver Surface, who, in his
green suit, looks like a James Fenimore Cooper trapper on London
For a good laugh, study Ryland’s face and then check out the Surface
family portrait gallery. Both Welsh, as Lady Teazle, and Falk, as
Maria, are winsome and charming enough to turn every head in 1777
London. In general, the company conforms to the elegance of Sheridan’s
world, keeping up a formalized front of naturalism that needs co-exist
with the period’s gross affectations.
How refreshing to experience a play that so thoroughly exposes
deception, and dishonesty without obscenity. For us "The School
for Scandal" is more than a breathless and satiric assault on
a rumor and gossip-obsessed society for as Mrs. Candour so truly
"People will talk; there’s no preventing it." That talk:
genius for epigrammatic wit and wisdom is always worth a good listen.
— Simon Saltzman
Place, 609-258-2787. $26 to $42. Show runs to March 4.
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