New York City Theater
Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center
Richard Sheridan's "The Rivals" is as enjoyable today as when it was written 230 years ago! The current production at Lincoln Center, under Mark Lamos' inspired direction, takes on the sheen of a newly-minted-and very valuable--coin. It owes its success to both the play's durability and to Lamos' formidable company of performers and designers. This frothy comedy could easily be destroyed in the wrong hands. One could be bored with the wordy dialogue and trivial concerns. But, this time, Sheridan gets his due.
The play deals with a foolish group of suitors who long for the same girl, while she, in turn, longs for a romantic, impoverished lover. Disguises and deceptions and an array of wacky characters are the order of the day.
And of course the famous Mrs. Malaprop continues to mangle the English language. Sheridan's satire targets England's upper class of the time-ladies and gentlemen who spend their days at Bath in flirtations, shopping, gossip and 'the waters." But, at the close, Sheridan is not above pointing a lesson. Though all the couples connect properly in the end, they also learn to curb and correct their faults.
Lamos has garnered top players for this delicious concoction. Among them, both Dana Ivey as the indomitable Mrs. Malaprop and Richard Easton as the blustery Sir Anthony Absolute turn in dazzling performances. But they get solid support from the others of a large cast.
Everything fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, all of a piece. Set designer John Lee Beatty had created the world of King George with a handsome mansion dominating the scene. And Jess Goldstein's ornate costumes, each more outrageous than its predecessor (including veritable fruit bowls of hats), add to the hilarity. Peter Kaczorowski's lighting and Robert Waldman's original music all enhance the tale.
Lamos' production is two and half hours long, but it goes by in a flash, thanks to his sprightly pacing and to all elements of this stylish, entertaining show.
-- Irene Backalenick
Jan. 5, 2005