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THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Arts Club Theatre Company
2750 Granville St.
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
Oct. 26-Nov. 26
$27–$51
604.280.3311 or
604.687.1644
www.artsclub.com

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.

Jerry Wasserman

 

 

 
 
                       
 
 
last updated: Saturday, November 4, 2006 11:39 AM
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