THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Arts Club Theatre Company
2750 Granville St.
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
Oct. 26-Nov. 26
Dean Paul Gibson has quickly made a name for himself as one
of the best and most imaginative directors in Vancouver with
shows like the raunchy, hilarious Midsummer Night’s
Dream at last summer’s Bard on the Beach. So
it’s not exactly a surprise that his production of School
for Scandal opens with one of the most shockingly sexy comic
scenes ever mounted, if you’ll excuse the expression, in
an 18th century play—or maybe any play—in this city.
What is surprising is how tamely, conventionally, and even dully
so much of the rest of Richard Sheridan’s classic comedy
of manners and wit plays out in Gibson’s Arts Club staging.
Part of the problem is that we live now in a culture where shameless
slanderous gossip has become acceptable discourse. When that
idiot called Belinda Stronach a bitch on radio the other day,
an email poll found that 95% of listeners thought it was legitimate
and appropriate commentary. So when the wigged and powdered
fops and corseted ladies with huge bustles and swelling bosoms
trash their friends and rivals alike in Lady Sneerwell’s
London salon, it seems almost tame by comparison.
“There’s no possibility of being witty without a
little ill-nature,” remarks Sneerwell (a deliciously malicious
Jennifer Clement). How can that rather formal art compete
with our anything-goes life?
The first act is tough sledding, with the gossips at Sneerwell’s
laying down the beat while the complicated plot involving money,
seduction, concealment, and disguise is explained. At its
centre are energetic “old bachelor” Sir Peter Teazle
and his rebellious young wife (David Marr and Mia K. Ingimundson,
both excellent), and the brothers Charles and Joseph Surface
(Todd Thomson and Scott Bellis). Both brothers are after
the exceedingly dull but virtuous Maria (Ruth Brown). But one
of them is a cad and their rich uncle, Sir Oliver (Colin Heath),
mounts a sting to sort them out.
The show comes to life in the second act when slimy Joseph takes
centre stage along with his zoned-out butler, played with welcome
scenery-chewing brio by Christopher Gaze, whose little prancing
exits get big laughs every time. Bellis is terrific, showing
the same kind of comic command here that made him the unrivalled
star of Gibson’s Dream at Bard.
Still, this School lacks the kind of unbridled, outrageous
comic enthusiasm that marks Gibson’s best work. He
even resists using Heath’s remarkable acrobatic skills.
When Sir Oliver is involved in a tussle, all we get is a minor
fall. Rebekka Sorenson’s costumes are pretty and
amusing—bold stripes and pastels, orange and blue wigs—but
still somewhat restrained. And Ted Roberts’ set
of gilded picture frames is uninspired.
This school could use a whole lot more scandal.