By: Paulanne Simmons
First performed in London, on January 17, 1775, The Rivals was Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s inaugural production at Covent Garden. It was not well received. Critics
and the public did not like its length and disapproved of its bawdiness. The part of the Irish baronet, Sir Lucius O’Trigger, was considered badly written and poorly acted.
Today’s audiences, having become more and more accustomed to the 90-minute play, may still think the comedy is too long, but it is doubtful they will find it overly bawdy. And those who attend a performance at The Pearl will most certainly be tickled by veteran Pearl member Sean McNail’s portrayal of O’Trigger. So it goes.
The Rivals is a prime example of restoration comedy. And restoration comedy means comedy of manners, a form of entertainment that focuses on how we behave when we are at our worst and most pretentious. Often the characters’ very names indicates their absurdity. Thus in The Rivals we have Bob Acres, a foolish landowner; Lydia Languish, a young lady who has read too many romances and believes love is made more exiting by a dose of hopelessness; and Captain Jack Absolute, a model of subterfuge, who masquerades as a lowly officer named Ensign Beverley.
In the hands of The Rivals‘ most famous character, Mrs. Malaprop, the victims of her vanity include the English language. Carol Schultz delivers those famous "malapropisms" with an admirable
Hal Brooks directs a fine cast that includes Jessica Love as Lydia Languish and Cary Donaldson as her duplicitous lover, Jack; and Brad Heberlee as Jack’s friend, the jealous and suspicious Faukland, with Rachel Botcho as Julia, the object of his affections and abuse.
Ken Larsen Company’s set of receding walls provides a minimalist but very evocative background to the action. It is a very effective setting for the sumptuous costumes in which the characters parade across the stage. Period music help the scenes flow effortlessly into each other.
Comedies of manner require a kind of acting seldom used on the modern stage. Gestures are exaggerated and ridiculous. There are frequent asides to the audience. Introspection is kept to a minimum. No one expects these people onstage to be real. But they must be funny.
The cast of The Pearl’s revival meets all these requirements. The lovers are appropriately silly and smitten. Amongst the supporting cast, Dan Daily creates in Sir Anthony Absolute, Jack’s well-meaning father, a delectable caricature of a bumptious, entitled aristocrat. And Joey Parsons shines as Lucy, Lydia’s clever and conniving maid.
Most important, Brooks keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, despite the numerous scene changes, until that final scene when Mrs. Malaprop proclaims that all men are "bavarians."
The Rivals, at The Pearl Theatre, 555 West 42 Street, through May 25.
Running Time: Act I: 1 hour, 30 minutes; Act II: 55 Minutes (with an intermission) (212) 563-9261
Photos: Al Foote 111