Critic Harold Clurman variously called "School for Scandal" "a good deed in a wicked world" and "Mozartian -- a kind of music for the mind." While most great plays demand greatness in the performance as well, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1777 comedy is such a superbly crafted laugh machine, and so timeless in delivering delectable comeuppance to a viper's nest of idle-rich gossipmongers, that you'd practically have to club it to death to stifle its amazing pleasures.
Critic Harold Clurman variously called “School for Scandal” “a good deed in a wicked world” and “Mozartian — a kind of music for the mind.” While most great plays demand greatness in the performance as well, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 comedy is such a superbly crafted laugh machine, and so timeless in delivering delectable comeuppance to a viper’s nest of idle-rich gossipmongers, that you’d practically have to club it to death to stifle its amazing pleasures.
Yet that is exactly what director Gerald Freedman and star Tony Randall have managed to do with their production, all but squeezing the life out of a foolproof work. A co-production of Randall’s continually declining National Actors Theatre Freedman’s Great Lakes Theater Festival (where it was first presented), along with the Acting Company, this “School for Scandal” is a stolid costume parade (at least they’re Theoni Aldredge’s luxe threads) almost completely devoid ofhumor, let alone actual laughs.
Forget about the fact that, with its roster of scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells who would fit comfortably on any tabloid TV show, “Scandal” is ripe for a ripping, no-holds-barred presentation. Even taking the play at face value, it’s classic that needs no special pleading, only a devilish heart to drive it and nimble bodies to make it pass lightly. The present production lacks both.
What we have instead is Randall’s second-rate mugging as Sir Peter Teazle, the rich old boor who can’t make his young wife love him or stop spending his fortune. That it’s a role seemingly tailor-made for the putative star merely underscores his limitations as an actor. That the performance also manages to drag down a company that includes such good actors as Simon Jones, Norman Snow, Mary Lou Rosato and Jennifer Harmon, among others, is heartbreaking.
Merely depressing are Douglas W. Schmidt’s serviceable but tacky-looking set and Robert Waldman’s ersatz-Mozart incidental music. There’s no bio of Sheridan in the Playbill, and that makes sense: He’s nowhere to be found onstage, either.