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A CurtainUp Review
The School For Scandal

Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers. — Mrs. Candour
(from Left to Right): Dana Ivey, Frances Barber, Helen Cespedes
I've expressed before my lukewarm feelings about much of Restoration drama, which (as an admittedly biased specialist in Renaissance drama) I've generally felt is lesser than its immediate predecessor—cynical, often mean-spirited, and limited in scope. But there are notable exceptions, especially when a truly fine company has an opportunity to present its take; and when that company is The Red Bull, one of the best in the city, and the play The School for Scandal, one of the Restoration period's finest comedies, the result is likely to be a good one.

I'm happy to report that the Red Bull's version is even better than that. It's truly exceptional, and one of the best Restoration productions I've seen.

Certainly Richard Brinsley Sheridan's classic tale of malicious storytelling, shocking revelations, and societal censure has the usual elements of Restoration drama in spades. The "School" is actually a loose association of malicious gossip-mongerers, led by widow Lady Sneerwell (Frances Barber), whose own past public scandals have created her passionate desire for vengeance—manifested in her penchant to spread rumor and stories whenever and wherever she can. Yet she has an interest in one family in particular: the Teazles, who in Sir Peter Teazle (played with an appropriate amount of indignation and misogyny, balanced with a genuinely good heart, by Mark Linn-Baker) and his much younger wife Lady Teazle (Helen Cespedes) are immediately a ripe target for scandal, especially when Teazle's ward Maria (Nadine Malouf) is loved by profligate Charles Surface (Christian Demarais).

When we discover Charles' older and supposedly more moral (but actually hypocritical) brother Joseph Surface (Christian Conn) also desires Maria, while Lady Sneerwell desires Charles, the reasons for her interest in dividing and conquering the Teazles and the Surfaces and generally making a mess of things becomes clear.

The School for Scandal is a play with a great deal of wit and a number of biting observations on polite society, and an audience which pays attention will be rewarded accordingly. But this production goes further, thanks to excellent direction from Marc Vietor, clever costume and set design from Andrea Lauer and Anna Louizos respectively, and universally exceptional acting from the cast. In addition to the ones I've already mentioned, the redoubtable Dana Ivey is her usual blend of understated wit and perfect timing as Mrs. Candour, and Jacob Dresch is enormously funny as the gossip columnist Mr. Snake. Yet in a way, it's unfair to single out anyone when everyone is so good—this is great ensemble work.

But what is more striking than the professionalism on display—when the Red Bull is involved, you expect nothing less —is the sense of fun. Everyone seems to be having a good time here, with pitch perfect line readings, great timing, and excellent physical work. The famous "screen scene," where the Teazles and the Surfaces meet under rather unusual circumstances, is brilliantly carried off, but it's just one example of many where the company knows it's got something good on its hands and lets it all hang out. The energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

There are a couple of slight quibbles I might have with some changes to the script—for example, why the Surfaces' former steward Rowley needs to be changed to "Master Ranji from Punjab" (Ramsey Faragallah) is unclear, and nothing substantive really seems to result from the alteration—but these are minor concerns. In general, I'm delighted to see good work done well, and this is exactly that. As usual, The Red Bull Theater company has done an excellent job, and if you have even the faintest interest in classic theater, you should go see The School for Scandal as soon as you can.

Editor's Note: Readers might be interested in reading a feature posted at Curtainup at the time of another revival of this play and at a time when I was working on The Metaphors Dictionary. Sheridan being a master of metaphor, even when naming his characters, naturally was included. To read that feature go here

The School for Scandal
Playwright: Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by Marc Vietor
Cast: Frances Barber (Lady Sneerwell), Helen Cespedes (Lady Teazle), Christian Conn (Joseph Surface), Christian Demarais (Charles Surface), Jacob Dresch (Mr. Snake, Sir Harry), Ramsey Faragallah (Master Ranji), Ryan Garbayo (Sir Benjamin Backbite, Careless), Bradley Gibson (Sir Toby Bumper), Dana Ivey (Mrs. Candour), Mark Linn-Baker (Sir Peter Teazle), Nadine Malouf (Maria), Ben Mehl (Rufus, William, Hastings, Trip), Derek Smith (Mr. Crabtree, Mr. Midas), Henry Stram (Sir Oliver Surface)
Scenic Design: Anna Louizos
Costume Design: Andrea Lauer
Lighting Design: Russell H. Champa
Music and Sound Design: Greg Pliska
Running time: Two hours, twenty-five minutes (includes one ten minute intermission)
The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, (212) 924-2817
From 4/08/16; opening 4/24/16; closing 5/08/1.
Tues. and Wed. @ 7:30 p.m., Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 p.m., Sat. @ 2 p.m., Sun. @ 3 p.m.
Tickets: $80-100
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on April 22nd performance
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