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

School

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

Theater

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

designer

Michael Yeargan’s whimsical on-the-fly settings — a dash of

Chinoiserie

here and a splash of retro-Restoration there — the trappings

respectfully

steer clear of competition with the drop-dead-gorgeous apparel

designed

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

reptilian

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

flirtations

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

Thorell),

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

Sneerwell

instigates a smear campaign against Charles to sour and stop Maria’s

interest in him. With the further involvement of Mrs. Candour

(Marceline

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

(Benesch,

Cromwell, Hugot, Ryland, Welsh, and Woodman), are pleasurably

discharged

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

favorite.

"Jekyll and Hyde’s" Cuccioli, who has recently become one

of New Jersey’s more conspicuous resident actors ("Enter The

Guardsman"

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

adventurous

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

scandalmongers.

Here Lamos provides the style and skill needed to buoy the play

through

all the snuffing, snooping, and raising of eyebrows during quaint

asides.

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

fur-trimmed

green suit, looks like a James Fenimore Cooper trapper on London

holiday.

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

disguise,

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

observes,

"People will talk; there’s no preventing it." That talk:

Sheridan’s

genius for epigrammatic wit and wisdom is always worth a good listen.

— Simon Saltzman

The School for Scandal, McCarter Theater, 91

University

Place, 609-258-2787. $26 to $42. Show runs to March 4.


Previous Story Next Story


Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments