The School for Scandal: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Red Bull Theater takes a break from its usual Jacobean fare to produce Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1777 farce The School for Scandal, a massive hit of the time and still a sturdy example of the form. Some of the comedy's rhythms have, to be sure, staled over the centuries, but the core recipe proves durable: Sheridan condemns society gossips, which, coincidentally, lets him put the naughtiest of them front and center.
Happily, snark has no expiration date. To be sure, there is a plot about sincere Charles Surface (Christian DeMarais) and his hypocrite brother Joseph (Christian Conn); maybe in Sheridan's day, audiences worried about whether rich Uncle Oliver (Henry Stram) would get the brothers' respective virtues sorted out. But surely 18th-century crowds were actually laughing their wig-powder off at the bile spouted by the titular scandalmongers. Indeed, you will regret every moment that Dana Ivey's Mrs. Candour (dressed in yellow, like a cloud of very bitchy mustard gas) and Frances Barber's Lady Sneerwell (va-va-voomy in leopard-print puffed sleeves) are not onstage. An adorable subplot about Sir Peter Teazle (Mark Linn-Baker) and his giddy young bride (Helen Cespedes) is as exquisite as you could wish, but we never stop wanting the mean girls to pay a visit. As an anti-gossip cautionary tale, School fails spectacularly.
Director Marc Vietor keeps his embroideries to the margins: Transitions have been briskly choreographed and, though he encourages costumier Andrea Lauer and wig designer Charles G. LaPointe to Wonka-esque excess, the production mainly keeps to its period and techniques. Vietor does allow several performances to turn overly broad—Derek Smith, for instance, is much better as the slinking usurer Midas than he is elsewhere in a more flamboyant role, and the vile critic Snake (Jacob Dresch) always seems to be playing to the second balcony. (It's the Lortel. There is no second balcony.) Such overcompensations are telltale signs of actor or director trying to make something funny, which doesn't work. So how do you render every line hilarious? Don't ask me—Baker and Ivey are mere feet away, giving the master class.—Helen Shaw
Lucille Lortel Theatre (Off Broadway). By Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Directed by Marc Vietor. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission.