Friday, January 17, 2020

Seattle Shakespeare presents “The Rivals”

Alexandria Henderson and Avery Clark in The Rivals (John Ulman)

The Rivals
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through February 2, 2020

The Rivals, by Richard Sheridan, is a 1700’s comedy of manners. It basically pokes fun at the society that Sheridan lived among, though apparently, they didn’t take offence (the British spelling) to it, since it became very popular.

A 17-year-old ingenue, Lydia Languish (Alexandria Henderson), is so in love with romance novels, which she reads voraciously, that instead of looking for a wealthy husband, she thinks it far more romantic to choose a pauper to love. Young Jack Absolute (Avery Clark), who should “come into” a fairly significant fortune, falls for her. Knowing her penchant for paupers, he pretends to be a penniless Ensign “Beverley” and gains her heart.

Her guardian, Mrs. Malaprop (Julie Briskman), is enraged about this and has bottled Lydia up in the house while plotting to match Lydia up with someone with money. Suddenly Jack’s father, Sir Anthony (Bradford Farwell) shows up and the two elders decide their youngers should get married.

But now Jack has a problem because Lydia will find out he’s NOT penniless! Oh NO! Now what does he do? Lydia might fall out of love with him!
Complications ensue because there are two other suitors for Lydia, but they’re neither of them well-written or funny so the characters just derail the humor in the situation. This was Sheridan’s first play, after all. Also the play is three hours long. It pretty well exhausts the audience of the well-wishes they might have had to watch a comedic play.

Much of the mismatch has to lie with director George Mount. There’s no copyright infringement on this very old play, and a bunch of judicious pruning might really have helped! Then Mount inserts “updates” to comic references so that we get 20th Century songs and jokes stuck in (Michael Jackson music? Really?). Updated references are not in-and-of-themselves funny.

The two funniest actors play the two funniest characters. Briskman and Farwell capture exactly the comedy needed in this play. The wonderfully nutty costuming from Doris Black includes absolutely ENORMOUS wigs in extremely unreal colors that cause the women to practically bop their hair into the doorway exits!

The character names gave rise to current English words. “Malapropisms” is directly related to this play. Mrs. Malaprop uses words that sound like the correct word but often are exactly the opposite of what she means to say. Briskman milks this (appropriately) for all it’s worth. It’s great fun. Farwell gets to chew scenery as he plays the gout-plagued father who expects his son to simply obey him, no matter how old the son or how outrageous the request.

The cast includes a lot of other good actors but their material doesn’t give them help to raise the bar much. An example would be Sophia Franzella who plays Maid Lucy. She is a conniving servant who gets people to pay her for any extra help she gives them. She tells the audience about it in a very “Moliere-created servant who is the puppet-master” type way. Then her character disappears and Lucy never does anything to pull any strings at all.

The choice of play to do was certainly a warranted one. Shakes chooses one non-Shakespearian play to do each year. Sheridan is a well-known playwright of his time. A comedy is welcome during the bleak winter months.

But comedy is not an easy area to pull off and one has to glide between “funny,” “cute,” and “overdone” with sure footing. Given the ability to cut with impunity, a play like this can only be improved by gutting the clunky parts. Here, Mount didn’t do it any favors.

If you enjoy period plays with beautifully fun costuming, a couple of top-notch clowns, and the idea of current cultural references enlivening an old script, then by all means, book your tickets.

For more information, call 206-733-8222 or go to

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