“The Rivals” at the Pearl Theatre Company (Closed Sunday May 25, 2014)

May 9, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
By Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by Hal Brooks
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is a great deal of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan in his rollickingly funny “The Rivals” the comedy of manners he wrote for Covent Garden and where it first appeared in 1775. Riffing the sham chivalry and sham romance of his day, Sheridan drew from his life experiences to develop a roster of comedic characters with absurd conflicts that spin outrageous plots and subplots. The action centers on modern woman Lydia Languish (Jessica Love) who indeed languishes after the glamour of eloping with Ensign Beverly who is in reality the wealthy Captain Jack Absolute (Cary Donaldson).

Ms. Languish is under the guardianship of Mrs. Malaprop (Carol Schultz) whose outrageous diction is responsible for the coining of the literary devise malapropism. In an exchange with sexist Sir Anthony Absolute (Dan Daily), Mrs. Malaprop retorts, “Nay, nay, Sir Anthony, you are an absolute misanthropy.” While conspiring to wean Lydia from her affection for the poor Beverly and have her meet the wealthy Captain Jack, Mrs. Malaprop is engaged in her own chicanery. Sir Lucius O’Trigger (Sean McNall), also wanting to court Lydia, is paying Lydia’s maid Lucy (Joey Parsons) to carry love notes between him and Lydia (who uses the name “Delia”), but Lucy is swindling him: “Delia” is actually Mrs. Malaprop.

All of this farcical “drawing room” behavior generates additional problems when one suitor discovers others suitors are attempting to woo the same young woman. Threats become challenges to duels. Actors Chris Mixon as Bob Acres, Sean McNall as Sir Lucius O’Trigger, and John C. Egan as Bob Acres’ right hand man portray suitors at war with each other and with their own self-understanding. They consistently light up the stage with hilarity and amazing craft.

Counterpointing the absurd antics of Lydia and her guardians and suitors is the on-again off-again relationship between the play’s only non-comedic character Julia Melville (Rachel Botchan) and the uber-jealous Faulkland (Brad Heberlee). Their relationship serves as the perfect balance to the play’s comedy and watching these two actors engage in their own brand of dueling is breathtaking.

Stock characters (butler and maid) Fag (Kambi Gathesha) and Lucy (Joey Parsons) keep the intrigue inherent in “The Rivals” festering and compounding at the alarming rate necessary for the plot to move forward. These two fine actors breathe authenticity and honesty into characters that could easily be dismissed. It would be fascinating to see Mr. Gathesha and Mr. Donaldson switch roles in some performances.

PTC’s new Artistic Director Hal Brooks takes the helm as director of “The Rivals” and keeps the pace moving at precisely the correct tempo teasing the very best from his brilliant ensemble cast. The play’s two and one-half hour length seems to race by and at no time does the audience get a rest from laughing and attempting to keep up with who is going to dart on and off the stage with a new twist in the story line. Jo Winiarski’s set is the perfect backdrop for the action of this charming play and its design brings wonderful perspective to all that transpires. Jason Fassl’s lighting is serviceable and Sam Flemming’s costumes are extraordinary in their detail and design.

All in all, this production of “The Rivals” is dazzling and not to be missed. It exemplifies Pearl Theatre Company’s insistence on perfection and quality and belief in the importance of the theatre past, present, and future.