Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Rivals"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
directed by Nicholas Martin

Fag, servant to Captain Absolute … Dennis Staroselsky
Thomas, a coachman … Nathaniel McIntyre
Lydia Languish … Cheryl Lynn Bowers
Lucy, maid to Lydia … Helen McElwain
Julia Melville … Mia Barron
Mrs. Malaprop, aunt to Julia … Mary Louise Wilson
Sir Anthony Absolute … Will LeBow
Captain Jack Absolute, his son … Scott Ferrara
Faulkland, friend to Jack Absolute … Gareth Saxe
Bob Acres, a country gentleman … Brian Hutchison
Errand Boy … Edward Tournier
Sir Lucius O’Trigger, an Irishman … Rod McLachlan
David, servant to Acres … Eric Anderson

Townspeople, Servants, Footmen:
Bill Barclay, Daniel Berger-Jones, Jessica Grant,
Murisa Harba, Patrick Lynch, Max Rosenak

You can’t beat the Restoration playwrights when it comes to plot construction --- Shakespeare seems loose, by comparison --- take, for instance, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s THE RIVALS: the scene is Bath, the year is 1775, and the fair Lydia Languish has been secretly wooed and won by the penniless Ensign Beverly but little does Lydia know that her beloved is really the well-to-do Captain Jack Absolute who has used his disguise to sound the depths of her impressionable heart. Meanwhile, Lydia’s guardian-aunt Mrs. Malaprop (famous for her, well, malapropisms) plans to marry off her niece to a man of her own choosing who turns out to be Jack, himself, and Jack’s father Sir Anthony Absolute, newly arrived in Bath, has picked out a bride for his son who turns out to be Lydia. Happy ending? No, for Lydia wants a romantic elopement rather than a conventional marriage and what is the disguised Jack to do? Meanwhile, yet again, Bob Acres, a country gentleman vying for Lydia’s hand vows to duel with Beverly not knowing that his unseen rival is really his friend Jack, and a provoked Irish gentleman, Sir Lucius O’Trigger, also wants satisfaction but with Jack, not Beverly; having painted himself into a corner, Jack must deal with Lydia’s mood-swings and a handful of rivals, real or imagined, before Cupid can hang up his bow and the audience can depart, happily.

I was neither surprised nor disappointed at the Huntington production for the Old Girl is at her best when sticking to the tried and true, ironing out any rough edges lest she threaten or offend, and it was good to see a full house heartily enjoying THE RIVALS even when done in period and whose sole purpose is still to entertain (the only perceivable cut is some by-play between Acres and O’Trigger in preparing for their duels). The evening is mellow rather than sparkling: instead of something chilled and frothy, Nicholas Martin sets down a soothing cup of chocolate in what is listed as Bath but resembles more a reconstruction of the Coliseum and he fills it with hustle and bustle to make the B. U. vastness seem cozy and intimate, whereas --- and I’ll probably say this regarding future productions, as well --- THE RIVALS should have been planted on its smaller stage at the BCA. The ensemble runs like clockwork though not all the parts are in sync: on the plus side are Gareth Saxe as the morose Faulkland, ever putting his foot in Love’s mouth, and Mia Barron as Julia, his commonsensical beloved (as the saying goes, for every ninny there’s a nanny): their big renunciation scene is welcome bedrock to all the frivolity and when Mr. Saxe, left alone, mourns to cello music from Handel’s “Love in Bath”, the results are sadly enchanting. Joining them are Rod McLachlan who gives Sir Lucius O’Trigger a delightful, burly silliness without lapsing into foppery, and, most of all, Will LeBow’s volatile Sir Anthony Absolute, looking like a bewigged eagle who has just sucked a lemon and who, on the evening I attended, exited each time to rounds of applause --- it says something about the A.R.T. when Mr. LeBow and his fellow players Thomas Derrah and Karen MacDonald are far more appealing artists on other stages. In contrast, Scott Ferrara’s Jack is so much vanilla pudding --- smooth and professional but still, vanilla pudding --- and Cheryl Lynn Bowers has been encouraged to play Lydia as a near-twit (her wig and teddy bear tipped me off, at once) instead of being a girl with a crush on a soldier (did YOU act this way as a teenager in love?). Helen McElwain, as Lucy the maid, has never looked comelier and, in declamation, has never sounded flatter; I still cannot see what all the fuss is about. The star of the show is Mary Louise Wilson as Mrs. Malaprop; unfortunately, Ms. Wilson is either suffering from a cold or chooses to declaim from the back of her throat for I could not understand her a good deal of the time, a hindrance underscored in her scenes with the crystal-clear Mr. LeBow; still, others must have deciphered her for she got her laughs in all the right places. On the whole, Mr. Martin’s chocolate goes down smoothly and is safe, recommended fun. (The production’s ads, showing two pairs of feet in recline, are misleading.)

Mrs. Malaprop may speak such pearls as “He is the very pineapple of politeness”, but my favorite malapropism comes from my own mother’s lips: back in the 1980s, she flew over Martha’s Vineyard and, looking down, declared in all seriousness that the island was scarcely inhibited.

"The Rivals" (7 January ­ 6 February)
Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

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