Approaching Sheridan’s work – The School for Scandal.

Approaching Sheridan’s work – The School for Scandal.

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley (1751-1816), British dramatist and politician, whose work is, considered the finest development of the comedy of manners in 18th-century England. Sheridan was born in Dublin, Ireland and educated at the University of Oxford. In 1775 three of his comic  works; a drama, The Rivals; a farce, St. Patrick's Day; and an opera, The Duenna, were produced with great success at Covent Garden, London. The score for the opera was written by his father-in-law, the composer Thomas Linley, with whom Sheridan purchased the Drury Lane Theatre in London. From 1776, Sheridan served as manager of the theater and produced there several of his other witty satires on fashionable society, quite different from the sentimental comedies then popular. Among his works are The School for Scandal (1777) and The Critic (1779). The School for Scandal is considered his masterpiece: a series of gossipy but polished, fast-paced scenes exposing contemporary foibles through the actions of the vigorously drawn characters. The Critic, an after piece designed to be presented after a full-length play, is the work of a writer thoroughly familiar with the theater world; it is a broad satire on contemporary playwrights and their critics. Sheridan's two major trademarks

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are his incisively exaggerated characters and amusing twists of plot. From the name of Mrs. Malaprop, a humorous character in the early play The Rivals, derives the widely used term malapropism, meaning the absurd misapplication of a long word.

Sheridan became a member of Parliament in 1780, undersecretary for foreign affairs in 1782, secretary to the treasury in 1783, and treasurer of the navy and a member of the Privy Council in 1806. He later became a leader of society and a close adviser to the Prince of Wales, later George IV. The playwright's parliamentary career was notable for his eloquent speeches made in opposition to the British war against the American colonies, in support of the new French Republic, and in denunciation of the British colonial administrator Warren Hastings.

Sheridan died in London on July 7, 1816, his last years having been shadowed by financial ruin after the burning of the Drury Lane Theatre in 1809. 01


01 "Sheridan, Richard Brinsley". Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2002 (29 June. 2002) © 2002 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.






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THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL. By Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Directed by Michael Baron. Musical direction and original music by Richard Cumming. Set design by Lee Savage. Costumes by Marilyn Salvatore with Heidi Bochain, Allison Brabee, Hanna Chung, Elsie Hong, Yuli Hsu, Stacy Murphy, Shannon Quigley, Chris Viggiano, and Heather Williams. Lighting by D.M. Wood. Sound by Peter Hurowitz. With Stephen Berenson, Angela Brazil, Timothy Crowe, Richard Cumming, William Damkoehler, Janice Duclos, Mauro Hantman, Lian-Marie Holmes, Phyllis Kay, Andy MacDonald, Barbara Meek, Alex Platt, Fred Sullivan Jr., Rachael Warren, Rose Weaver, Dan Welch, and Stephan Wolfert. At Trinity Repertory Company, through October 8.
Trinity Rep has hauled Richard Brinsley Sheridan out of the 18th century on an 18-wheeler. The troupe is famous for putting the pedal to the metal of classical comedy, whether removing Twelfth Night to Margaritaville or swinging The Miser from a grid of old chandeliers. Now Sheridan's gossip-propelled 1777 comedy of manners, The School for Scandal, turns up in a gilt-and-white, glass-blocked 21st-century penthouse, its fashionably veneered inhabitants garbed for something between a runway and Mars. Fans of period style and powdered wigs will not approve. But Michael Baron's careering production, decorated with high-punk fashion and Cole Porter songs, proves not only that




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backbiting is as durable as love or politics but that Sheridan, whether dressed in mothballs or leather, remains vigorous and funny.

Lady Sneerwell, having been injured in her youth by gossip, presides over a salon whose raison d'être is tattle. This irritates the good but gullible Sir Peter Teazle, whose impressionable young wife has been sucked into Sneerwell's circle. Meanwhile the brothers Surface, seemingly upstanding schemer Joseph and generous libertine Charles, are vying for the affections of Sir Peter's ward, Maria. When the Surfaces' rich Uncle Oliver returns from a long sojourn in Calcutta, everyone's true colors -- from black to green to true-blue -- show. Meanwhile, as the characters' names -- including Mrs. Candour and Sir Benjamin Backbite -- indicate, Sheridan is out to skewer the artifice, hypocrisy, and lust for scandal of supposedly genteel society.

Not so blatantly bawdy as his forebears Congreve and Wycherly, Sheridan does in the end bow to the "sentiment" and morality that were the standard of his day. But at Trinity, his tidily ennobling ending, in which the recovering wastrel gets the girl, goes up in smoke along with period style. The play's epilogue is spoken by a barely reformed Lady Teazle, in a short baby-doll dress and mod tights, as the newly wed Charles and Maria, their contemporary costumes shed, cavort like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette on top of a wedding cake.

Baron first directed The School for Scandal as his MFA thesis at Trinity Rep Conservatory, and set designer and recent Rhode Island School of Design graduate Lee Savage has been an apprentice to Trinity and Broadway designer Eugene Lee. So the

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production, which also features some truly outré fashions created by students of the RISD Apparel Department in collaboration with Trinity costume designer Marilyn Salvatore, represents another example of the troupe's surprisingly successful program of turning the store over to the kids. (Amanda Dehnert, not yet 30 and a Trinity Rep Conservatory grad, is associate artistic director of the theater and has helmed striking staging of material ranging from My Fair Lady to Othello.)

Baron and Savage, given veteran professional actors and a few bucks, do not disappoint. Savage's French Provincial penthouse set, with its rogue elevator to facilitate the play's numerous entrances and exits, is lavish and workable. Baron runs the characters, including one on a walker, up, down, and around its sweeping stair, balcony bridge, and white-shag-carpeted central playing space. The elevator, its lighted buttons displaying less logic than the characters, feeds some clever business. And given the aerial view afforded entering visitors, the fourth-act "screen scene," one of the most famous in classical comedy, here takes on an almost Marx Brothers dimension. Of course, the scene itself is almost upstaged by Lady Teazle's costume for it, a brief ensemble dominated by a polka-dotted Twister game-board cape under which she rigidly lays herself down to be seduced.

In an ideal world, all these shenanigans would be juxtaposed by sophisticated acting replete with some of the flourishes of the period. But that is not the rough-and-tumble Trinity style. Rachael Warren, as Lady Teazle, comes closest: whether clad as Carmen Miranda or in a sheer ruffled sausage casing, Warren keeps her petulant, flirtatious

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dignity. Her scenes with Timothy Crowe's sadsack, exasperated parent of an older spouse are not only funny but oddly sweet. Fred Sullivan Jr., sporting an Indian caftan over a big uniformed belly, has a lot of fun donning the various disguises of Sir Oliver, from Irish poor relation to moneylender; his kibitzing delight that nephew Charles, however disreputable, will not part with his uncle's picture is particularly irresistible. And chez Sneerwell, the gossipy set, decked out in turbans, bangles, and leopard, puts forward a more vulgar, nouveau riche face. No one really attempts the sly, flowery posturing of the era. But if this is not a School for Scandal that draws you into its time, it amply demonstrates that dalliance, dish, and a distinctively dressed demi-monde are timeless. 02







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A SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL was produced at Drury Lane Theater, London, May 8, 1777.

THE middle-aged and wealthy bachelor, Sir Peter Teazle, has married the young and comely daughter of a country squire. The fashionable society of which Lady Teazle through  her marriage becomes a part, occupies itself mainly with malicious gossip whose arrows no one, however chaste, can completely escape. By far the most dangerous of these backbiting cliques is the one led by Lady Sneerwell.

This lady is attempting through lies and letters written by the forger, Snake, to break up the love affair between Charles Surface and Sir Peter's ward, Maria, hoping to get Charles for herself. To this end she has joined forces with Charles' brother, Joseph, a hypocritical youth who enjoys an excellent reputation in contrast to his brother's wild and extravagant habits. Joseph has his eye on the fortune that will one day come to Maria and is backed in his suit by Sir Peter who has been utterly fooled by the young man's righteous exterior. Maria sees through Joseph, however, and turns a cold ear in spite of her guardian's expressed wishes. 2

Meanwhile Sir Oliver Surface arrives unexpectedly from Australia. He hears such conflicting reports of his nephews and prospective heirs that he decides to look them over before he makes his arrival known. He approaches Charles in the guise of a moneylender and in the famous "auction" scene buys the family portraits. Throughout the transaction he is impressed with Charles' high sense of honor and obligation to those less fortunate. When he approaches Joseph as a poor relation begging help, Joseph is revealed in his true colors.

Now gossip has linked Lady Teazle's name with that of Charles Surface, but in reality she has been indulging for fashion's sake in an affair with Joseph. The rumors about Lady Teazle and Charles come at last to Sir Peter's ears and, much distressed, he goes to Joseph's apartment to

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consult with him. Lady Teazle, who is enjoying a tryst with Joseph, sees Sir Peter's arrival and hastily hides behind a screen. Sir Peter, in turn, hides in a closet, when Charles unexpectedly arrives. The latter inadvertently reveals Lady Teazle behind the screen and Sir Peter, coming out of his closet, revises his estimate of Joseph.

Lady Teazle throws herself on Sir Peter's mercy with the frank confession that she was pretending to an affair because it was the fashion, but admits that her only real interest is in her own husband. Sir Oliver, meanwhile, has rounded up Snake, the forger. His confession brings about reconciliation between Charles and Maria, and Sir Peter gladly withdraws his objections to this match. 03







Works Cited

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, New York:

                     Modern Language Association, 5th ed. 1988.

            Smith, Lyle E. Archetypal Criticism: Theory and Practice. Carson. CSUDH, 1997.




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