A vibrant, lavish `Scandal'

Lancisi directs Everyman Theatre's largest production

theater review

November 16, 2006|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

Most of the scenes in The School for Scandal at Everyman Theatre begin with the actors frozen in tableaux on a platform at the back of the stage. Then the platform glides forward and the action begins.

Not only do the tableaux on designer Daniel Ettinger's sets resemble paintings (especially paintings by William Hogarth), but the scenery, including the curtains, consists primarily of two-dimensional paintings. Yet there's nothing static about director Vincent M. Lancisi's vibrant production of this 1777 comedy of manners, written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan and adapted by Michael Bawtree.

Looking remarkably comfortable in Gail Stewart Beach's elaborate period costumes and Anne Nesmith's poufy wigs, the cast -- headed by Everyman favorites -- elicits laughter while skewering the maliciousness of gossip and the vileness of hypocrisy.

Sheridan's plot focuses on brothers Joseph and Charles Surface. Joseph -- played by Patrick Tansor too flatly for this unctuous, hypocritical goody-goody -- passes himself off as a paragon of morality. Charles, on the other hand, is exactly what he appears to be -- a cheerful hedonist and spendthrift. But as Alexander Strain's ebullient performance makes clear, Charles is a man whose heart is as generous as his spirit.

After many years abroad, the brothers' rich uncle, Sir Oliver, returns to London to find out which nephew is worthy of being his heir. But, this being a play in which "surfaces" often hide the truth, Sir Oliver decides to test his nephews through subterfuge. Disguising himself first as a money lender and then as a poor relation, Wil Love's Sir Oliver is comically bewildered himself at times, but not so much that he can't tell a good man from a rotten one.

The chief subplot concerns another of the brothers' uncles, Sir Peter Teazle, who, late in life, has married a young bride. Carl Schurr and Megan Anderson, who portrayed a devoted father and daughter in Everyman's 2004 production of Proof, are cast here as spatting spouses, roles they take to with spirited delight. "If you wanted authority over me, you should have adopted me, not married me," Anderson's spoiled Lady Teazle proclaims defiantly.

The play's title is a phrase that Lady Teazle uses to describe a salon of gossips presided over by Helen Hedman's viper-tongued Lady Sneerwell, a woman who prides herself on knowing "no pleasure equal to that of bringing the reputation of others down to the level of my own."

The most amusing member of her coterie is Rosemary Knower's Mrs. Candour, a jolly woman who abjures tale-bearing at the same time she's engaging in it. Knower's depiction of this busybody -- who is blithely oblivious to her own nature -- is among the best portrayals I've seen her deliver.

One of Lancisi's funniest, most sharply directed scenes comes near the end when several of the gossips rejoice in -- and act out -- thoroughly inaccurate accounts of a foiled assignation. The director also adeptly stages the play's most famous scene, a swift bit of farce in which a couple of unexpected arrivals force Joseph to conceal Lady Teazle behind a screen and her husband in a closet.

Charles Surface's first scene, which begins with an authentic-sounding tavern song composed for the production by Chas Marsh, is equally inspired. And, the final face-off between Hedman's Lady Sneerwell and her former confidant, Bruce Nelson's duplicitous Snake, plays like an 18th century version of a Jerry Springer-induced confrontation.

The School for Scandal is the largest production in Everyman's 16-year history -- 19 actors in 28 roles wearing 36 costumes and 25 wigs on five sets with more than 100 props, according to the tally in the program.

The show's opening came only days before yesterday's news that the theater is moving to larger quarters. This lavish School is a strong indication that the burgeoning regional theater is ready to graduate to the next level.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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