There’s a funny moment late in “The School for Scandal” that finds a good portion of the cast at the lip of the stage disgustedly spitting out the word, “Critics!”
But it would be a grumpy critic, indeed, who didn’t have positive things to say about the Riverside Theatre in the Park production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 satire. Under the direction of Theodore Swetz, the cast delivered a consistently humorous performance of a play that explores the pitfalls of gossip for both the gossiper and his or her hearers.
The story is built upon schemes within schemes and hidden motives both pure and malicious. From the show’s opening moments, the “fourth wall” separating audience from actors is torn down, allowing the characters to speak directly to the folks in the seats in the West High School Auditorium (where the annual festival has been moved due to flooding in City Park).
Characters are called upon to address the audience even while in the midst of heated or mischievous exchanges with other characters. It’s a tricky, but funny, device, and it is handled deftly throughout the play.
Each member of the cast turns in a strong performance, but highest praise is reserved Tim Budd as Sir Peter Teazle, an older man desperate for the love of his younger wife. Budd’s character rages and sulks by turns, finding himself outwitted or betrayed even as he attempts to make things right. It’s a winning performance, and central to the production’s success. Eliza Stoughton is also excellent as Lady Teazle, a woman who loves her husband too little and scheming too much. Scenes featuring Budd and Stoughton together are highlights of the production.
Ron Clark is delightful as Sir Oliver Surface, a military man newly arrived home who seeks to discover the true character of his nephews through a variety of ruses. Jim Van Valen plays Joseph Surface, a hypocrite of the first order whose plans unravel as the truth comes to light. Van Valen is a wonderful comic actor, equally adept with wordplay and physical comedy. Christopher Peltier portrays Charles Surface, an apparent spendthrift with a hidden motive. Peltier infuses Charles with a wide-eyed idealism that is terrifically appealing.
Swetz and the design team decided, wisely, I think, to largely recreate the Riverside Festival Stage’s playing area and design in West High. Shelly A. Ford’s set is appealing and versatile, with various points of entry and exit created in a small space. Costume designer Lauren Roark has created an outlandish set of outfits, wigs, make-up designs that enhance the comedy and please the eye. Matthew Janszen’s incidental music is light and in keeping with the play’s tone.
While it might be hyperbole to suggest it would be a scandal were you to miss “The School for Scandal,” I do recommend this production highly.
Riverside Theatre changes venues due to City Park flooding
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