Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
Richard Brinsley Sheridan was the master of the 18th Century Comedy of Manners, combining a brilliant wit with searing satirical insight and an utterly jaded view of the fickle nature of both romantic love and one's tenuous standing in the compromised judgment of proper society. He was also a man for whom style was as natural as breathing, and whose worldly morality allowed him the perfect posture to measure the iniquity and folly of the good citizens around him.
"The School for Scandal" is strikingly fresh and current for a play over 200 years old, and is still perfectly attuned to the language and attitudes of compromise, as well as to the behavior which so frequently leads passion into absurdity, and hypocrisy to hilarity. Rod Ceballos has a fine grasp of the seriously inconsequential, and an equally sure understanding of the vulnerabilities of the heart. He directs this excellent cast to a well-balanced, if perhaps a bit long-winded, exercise in the complications and consequences of seeking the truth of our romantic yearnings, and the dangers of our judging the propriety of those yearnings in others.
The greatest strength of this production is the quality of the two leading roles, the aging bachelor Sir Peter Teazle and his far too young, far too beautiful bride, Lady Teazle. Peter A. Jacobs plays Sir Teazle with a fine combination of amorous blindness and touchingly human vanity. He knows the folly of falling in love with this young woman, and yet that is precisely what he did, and he does not deny the truth of his heart. As Lady Teazle, Betsy Schwartz is perfectly elegant and beautiful, her character faults like fine cracks in a porcelain bust. She is certainly not evil, but quite certainly weak, and her true character is less corrupted than mostly untried, her temptations more the sin than her illicit actions. What I especially liked about Ms. Schwartz performance was the sense that this was a good woman too easily strayed, and that in the end it is her good heart, rather than social strictures, that guide her back to decency and fidelity. That also made Sir Peter's love for her seem well-directed, her return to him conscientious.
Of the other cast members, I especially liked Stephanie Shine as Lady Sneerwell, a far more hard-edged beauty than Lady Teazle, and one for whom age has cruelly wrinked the skin of her kindness. M.J. Sieber was very good as the young Charles Surface, who would literally sell the faces of his ancestry, save for the good benefactor Sir Oliver Surface, played with a kind of pained emotional gout by Charles R. Leggett. All of the characters had a stylistic consistency except for Peter Dylan O'Connor, whose Snake was an effete characterization so affected that his speech blurred, and he seemed ridiculous in a way that none of the others were.
Overall, this was a deliciously nasty romp through period style and social manner, with enough of a heart to make it sympathetic and enough brilliance to demand our attention. The play does seem a bit long at three hours, but the tension of the performance never let off, and the attentiveness of the performers was equally alert. I found myself genuinely enjoying the elegance of the language, the acuity of the observation, the distinction of the characters and the compassion of the sentiment. This was a classic work that never seemed overly studied or constrained. "The School For Scandal" was once again a lively and vivacious academy indeed.