Monday, May 5, 2014

The Rivals @ The Pearl Theater Company

False identities, miscommunications, and misspoken words drive the hilarious production of The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan at the Pearl Theatre Company.

The play, written in 1775, concerns the doings of Captain Jack Absolute (Cary Donaldson) who is wooing Lydia Languish (Jessica Love) under the assumed name of Ensign Beverly, a poor man. Lydia loves the adventure of eloping with a poor man, so what will she do when she finds out that Beverly is really Jack Absolute, a rich noble who her aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (Carol Shultz) actually wants her to marry. At the same time, Lydia’s cousin Julia (Rachel Botchan) is in love with Faulkland (Brad Herberlee), but his jealousy and general misanthropy is driving a wrench into their romance. Add a couple of colorful supporting characters, a few challenges of duels, and you have a hilarious farce.

The main delight of this show was the acting of all the performers, particularly when it came to the physicality of all the characters. Every character was distinct and had a unique physicality associated with each. Lydia was frequently languishing around and moping, punctured by exciting bursts of energy. The maid, Lucy (Joey Parsons) bopped along with short little strides and hops until she revealed her true nature and then became much more sly and natural. Faulkland would mope around the stage, while the more outrageous characters like Mrs. Malaprop and Bob Acres (Chris Mixon) would glide and boisterously move around the stage. The distinct physicalities really helped reinforce who the characters were and helped the audience keep them all straight in their minds.

Much of the excitement and humor of the show came from the superb directing by Hal Brooks. The staging was fresh and dynamic and really helped the pacing of the show keep moving, particularly in the long first act. One particular standout was a dramatic mood shift in the second act between the beta couple of Julia and Faulkland. The tone shift was wonderfully subtle and beautifully acted as well.

Another standout from the production side of things came from the costume design by Sam Flemming. In any period piece, the costumes are always their own characters, and these costumes were no exception. They were appropriately lush and fitting to each character. One particular detail I really liked was how Julia and Faulkland’s clothes had a similar pattern to them, signifying their compatibility.

My one critique of the show is that the dialects, coached by Nissa Perrott, didn’t seem entirely natural or consistent. Some characters were certainly more comfortable than others. In particular, Sean McNall’s Irish accent as Lucius O’Trigger was delightfully natural and accurate. Others were not, like Fag (Kambi Gathesha), who sounded more Jamaican than British.
All in all, The Rivals is a hilarious production with superb acting and directing and an amusing storyline. What else could you want from theatre?

The Rivals will be running at The Pearl Theatre Company until May 25th, on 555 West 42nd Street.

Review By: Chrissy Cody

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