note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Despite Sir Benjamin Backbite's admonition that it's "vulgar to print" I feel compelled to do so because I've just seen a delicious presentation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's "The School for Scandal". With this very young company of actors The Bridge Theatre Company has succeeded in keeping Sheridan's comedy of manners delightfully light and stylishly grand.
Although the names of the characters are in the Restoration style --- a snide Snake, a flirty Lady Teazle, a nasty Lady Sneerwell --- Sheridan eschews the bawdiness of Restoration theater for an elegant, mannered presentation: the theatrical equivalent of a minuet.
Director Jeffrey Jones has added a splendid modern prologue written by Todd Hearon and the sweetest epilogue for a chastened Lady Teazle written by Maggie Dietz. These together with David Bell's original classical "French" score, and a clear view of the goings-on backstage, make this "School for Scandal" a veritable post-graduate treasure.
Sheridan set the stage for farces to come with his employment of a "screen" scene, and with his delayed appearance of a principal character. Although we hear reams of information about the charming profligate Charles Surface we don't meet him until Act II. (Sheridan himself was always in debt; in fact, his Drury Lane Theatre went bankrupt under his management.) Steve Kidd gives an exuberant performance as this noble but penniless gentleman. We do meet Charles' haughty two-faced brother Joseph (the wry Jacob Strautmann) right away, spreading lies aided and abetted by Penny Frank as the snooty Lady Sneerwell. Melissa Allen too plays a silly gossip always accompanied by an affable teddy bear who bears a strong resemblance to her owner. The entire cast has a grand time "diverting themselves" in scandal and in "hide and seek". Special mention must be made of the warring Teazles: Lea Contrarino is an adorable imp who tries as Lady T. to outwit her husband, touchingly portrayed by Bill Salem.
Aside from the ingenious costumes --- The higher the hair, the wickeder the wearer --- by Rosemary Ellis and Emily Brandt, Jones' portrait gallery gets my vote for cleverest staging. With this "School for Scandal" The Bridge proves that Sheridan is just as relevant today as he was in the 18th century. Huzzah!