FREDONIA - The Department of Theater and Dance at Fredonia State University has placed a historical comedy on their stage, and have produced a most remarkable production.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play "The School for Scandal," is an examination of the effects of hypocrisy and gossip on the lives of both the good-intentioned and the bad. Written about the time of the American Revolution, the play isn't a Restoration comedy, but it demands of its actors a kind of declamatory delivery of their performances with which they well might not be familiar, but which they managed very well.
Director Dr. James Ivey has tried to move the play beyond a historical pageant to relate to modern audiences in its elements which are significant, and not just surface qualities, by setting aside a row of seats at the rear of the theater and encouraging audience members to sit back there and to exchange text messages - today's principal tool for scandal - with actors who are on stage, but not featured in the action of the moment.
Unfortunately, of course, the audience members in most of the theater couldn't see either side of that exchange until intermission or after the play was over, so the point was completely lost on them. The wearing of relatively contemporary clothing created an additional challenge for the actors, since they needed to speak antiquated words and to move and speak in a manner of a much earlier era, but they had to do it without the identifying costuming to make it seem more natural.
Still, the actors were well-spoken and it was possible to follow the convoluted plot: Sir Peter Teazle is a man in late middle age, who has recently taken a beautiful young wife, whom he has chosen from a rural area, thinking she wouldn't know the wicked ways of big-city society.
Sir Peter has been named guardian of two young brothers, who are neighbors of his. Joseph and Charles Surface are both contradictions. Joseph bends over backward to present a public impression that he is honest, hard-working and earnest, while in fact, he is devious, conniving and dishonest. Charles plays the role of the spendthrift, drunken playboy, although in fact, he has a warm heart and decent human qualities.
Sir Peter's third ward is the beautiful young Maria. She and Charles Surface are in love, but their guardian forbids them to marry, because he thinks Joseph would make a better husband. Lady Sneerwell has spread every false rumor she can dream up about Charles and Maria, because she wants them to break up, so she can have Charles for herself.
Jim Drake was a well-spoken focus of events as the perpetually outwitted Sir Peter. Brittany Noel Bassett was lovely as the young wife who dominates him thoroughly.
Steve Russell was good looking and able to project the villainous soul beneath the noble surface as Joseph. I enjoyed Jordan Louis Fischer and Jenna Vezina as Charles and Maria, and Ryan Glynn obviously delighted in his role as the rich uncle of the Surface boys who spies on their true natures with the gift of rewarding the good and punishing the bad.
The cast was attractive and energetic. I felt they could have reined back the declamation a bit, especially in modern dress, but they put on a brave face with it, throughout.
Cheers to the attractive and very versatile set by Ryan P. Miller, and to the score by Sean Doyle, who served to mingle the music of 1777 with the sound of today, just as the director had mingled the performances.
The play repeats tonight, tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon in the Robert W. Marvel Theater, on the campus of Fredonia State.