Last Friday we opened Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy The School for Scandal, one of the funniest plays in the English language, under the direction of Professor Dale McFadden. Doris Lynch, the theatre critic for the Herald-Times, saw the final dress rehearsal, which served as the basis for her Saturday review, which we reprint, with permission, below. If you’re a subscriber to the paper, you may access the online edition of the paper and her review, which is just too good not to share:
Theater review: Sheridan celebrates the fine art of gossip in IU theater production
February 23, 2013, last update: 2/23 @ 12:03 am
Mrs. Candour (Nicole Bruce) is shocked in a scene from a rehearsal of “The School for Scandal,” now being presented by the Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama. Courtesy photo
Who can resist men wearing pastel hose standing among women shielding themselves with elegant fans, all sporting elaborate wigs, as they scoop dirt on their neighbors and friends? George Washington couldn’t. Reportedly, Sheridan’s play was his favorite.
On Thursday night, under Dale McFadden’s creative direction, this old classic was delightfully revitalized with oodles of knowing looks, a hide-and-seek scene in a boudoir and a rowdy drinking song. Fred Duer’s geometric set, artfully divided into four nearly empty rooms, gave the cast room to flirt, gossip, hide from each other and eavesdrop. As the night wore on, the men’s bows — one foot gracefully curled behind the other — grew more flowery and gymnastic. Under Derek Jones’ lighting design, the set looked stunning.
If you’re the type who never says a bad word about anyone, consider yourself 1. a saint, 2. a liar, or 3. needing instruction — available in spades for the price of your ticket. Sheridan’s dialogue emphasized that our main human entertainment is telling tales, both true and invented, nearly always judgmental about each other. Sheridan was prescient: Recently, social scientist Robin Dunbar found that nearly three-fourths of our human conversation is gossip. He compared it to primate grooming — believable in a play where several of the bouffant wigs puffed nearly a foot high.
The play opens with Lady Sneerwell (Evelyn Gaynor) conspiring with Snake, played by Eric Sigmondsson. Gaynor captures the contemptuous hauteur of a women losing in love. Her romantic interest, Charles Surface (Joshua Krause), widely considered by society to be dissipated and extravagant, is in love with another, the young innocent, Maria. Emily Harpe plays one of the few nongossips in the play with compassion and kindness.
Also involved in the romantic subplots is another Surface brother: the goodly Joseph (Aaron Kirkpatrick). Kirkpatrick brings a jaunty believability to this gracious society man about town, all the while wooing the audience with his charm. But since this is a morality tale, the magnanimous Joseph and the debt-ridden Charles may not be what they seem.
Nicole Bruce as Mrs. Candour, Jackson Goldberg as Crabtree and Drew Jenkins as Sir Benjamin Backbite excelled as malicious gossips. Even when not speaking — i.e. trashing their friends in mock-sympathetic tones — their gestures drew the audience’s attention.
As in so many English plots, a rich relative returns from abroad, in this case India. As the brothers’ uncle, Austin Wilson presents Sir Oliver Surface, but first he dons several disguises, including one as the usurious Mr. Premium as he investigates his nephews’ moral compasses.
As the country mouse turned society lady, Mara Lefler as Lady Teazle gives an endearing performance, as both coquette and woman not to be denied. Her half-playful, all-serious arguments with her husband, Sir Peter, provided much humor. As Peter, Clayton Gerrard turned in a moment from being the most didactic to the most uxorious of husbands.
In a play full of witty dialogue, Krause made memorable the moment when Charles Surface became inarticulate.
Lady Teazle’s gowns were beautiful, but even more striking in Barbara Harvey Abbott’s excellent costume design were the men’s waistcoats and hose, in exotic colors that helped establish the characters of these superficial gadabouts.
If you ever swore that you’d never say a bad word about anyone again, get thee to the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. Even after two and a quarter centuries, this play speaks to us all.
If you go
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama
WHAT: “The School for Scandal” by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Tuesday-March 2; 2 p.m. March 2
TICKETS: $10-25. Call 812-855-1103 or buy online at www.theatre.indiana.edu.
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