“The world is so censorious, no character will escape.”
From the moment we hear “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and get a gander at Mr. Snake’s (Jacob Dresch) green pompadour wig, we know we’re not in Kansas anymore; this will not be just another good production of the familiar eighteenth century Sheridan play. Indelicate bathroom sounds emitted by Lady Sneerwell (Frances Barber) who enters in her corset and petticoat, recoils at a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and is powdered (her breast) and sprayed with cologne (beneath her skirt) by her confidante, cement the presumption that this particular interpretation of the piece is going to be a hoot. And it is.
Frances Barber, Jacob Dresch
In an era with neither The National Enquirer or Gawker, aristocrats pursued word-of-mouth gossip as entertainment as much as to promote personal agendas. Salons were ubiquitous. Amorality ruled.
Ok, in brief (deep breath) Lady Sneerwell has conscripted gossip columnist/critic Mr. Snake to further her designs on Charles Surface (Christian Demarais), a dissipated, bankrupt extravagant. Both Charles and his brother Joseph (Christian Conn) are stuck on heiress Maria (Nadine Malouf), ward of Sir Peter Teazle (Mark Linn-Baker) who partially raised the boys in their traveling uncle’s absence.
Mark Linn-Baker and Henry Stram
Sir Peter is just married to a country girl who could be his daughter. The new Lady Teazle (Helen Cespedes) was chosen for a fresh, uncomplicated nature that has turned to fashionable acquisition and matrimonial defiance. “If you wanted authority over me, you should’ve adopted me, not married me.” Unfortunately for him, her cowed husband loves the lady. Sir Peter favors Joseph over Charles and does everything he can to help the young man’s amorous suit (which Sheridan curiously doesn’t show) while Master Ranji (Ramsey Faragallah) “a family confidante from the Punjab,” (think Jeeves), does everything he can to help Master Charles.
Ramsey Faragallah, Mark Linn-Baker
Silk stocking malice is fueled by Mrs. Candour (Dana Ivey) whose life appears to revolve around being in the know, society poet, Sir Benjamin Backbite (Ryan Garbayo) also pursuing Maria, and his shifty, affected uncle, Mr. Crabtree (Derek Smith). Smith also plays moneylender Mr. Midas whose slick fedora, long coat and shades are the man’s only character distinction-a missed opportunity.
When Sir Oliver Surface (Henry Stram) unexpectedly returns from the Near East these 16 years later, he decides to test his nephews’ integrity by way of several masquerades. Then things get complicated!
Christian Demarais, Henry Stram,
Of particular note:
Dana Ivey’s motormouth Mrs. Candour, tricked out in low, hanging breasts and matronly padding, emerges an obtuse, busybody grande dame. Ivey, as always, is an artful pleasure. As Mr. Crabtree, Derek Smith looks like Antonio Bandaras in a Charles Adams cartoon or a villain out of the Batman franchise. The actor oils his way around the stage with balletic movement and delightfully treacherous aura. His glee in dispensing hearsay is palpable.
Jacob Dresch (Mr. Snake), who would make a perfect Puck (Midsummer’s Night’s Dream), is intoxicating. The actor flickers with expression worthy of the silent screen yet never crosses that line. Listening (overhearing) is tart, phrasing crackles with ulterior motive. The character’s late request to keep secret one moment of mortifying honesty is terrific.
Christian Demarais, Henry Stram, Christian Conn
Christian Demarais (Charles Surface) exemplifies the kind of attractive, unrepentant rake popularized in romance novels. Gestures and expressions are exaggeratedly broad indicating an uninhibited, young squire feeling his oats.
Mark Linn-Baker’s conservative, fussy, egocentric, rabbit-like Sir Peter is at every moment a delight. When he addresses the audience, we feel bemused but empathetic. The thespian holds attention with frisky, seemingly effortless energy.
The nimble Stram seems patrician to his bones. We see his upbringing even as Sir Oliver insecurely role-plays. With accomplished focus, the actor makes his character’s second deception seem more fluent than the first. When apoplectic, he’s restrained, when pleased, a hug bursts forth as if unaccustomed. Reasoning feels grounded, resolution fitting. A rewarding turn.
Ben Mehl, who plays the small parts of various servants, executes deadpan hesitance and piquant reaction.
Henry Stram,Nadine Malouf, Christian Conn, Christian Demarais, Ramsey Faragallah
How Director Marc Vietor manages constant, screwball flourishes without descending to kitsch is a marvel. Every character takes her/himself so seriously, froth organically rises to the top. Timing is impeccable. A scene at Joseph’s house is physical vaudeville. One at Charles’s home is visually clever and theatrically rowdy-a nice change. Vietor is not just imaginative, but original.
Original Music and Sound Design by Greg Pliska is, though ‘modern,’ amusing and on target. Andrea Lauer’s Costume Design and Charles G. LaPointe’s colorful Wig and Hair Design are inspired. Authentic period depiction paired with contemporary detail contributes immeasurably to winking mood and character. Anna Louizos’ stylized Set Design is painterly, eschewing competition with the costumes. Paneled, wallpapered walls effectively hide doors, windows and even a library offering charming surprises.
Photos by Carol Rosegg.
Opening: Dana Ivey, Frances Barber, Helen Cespedes
Red Bull Theater presents
The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by Marc Vietor
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through May 8, 2016