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.

The School for Scandal

Production

NEW YORK A National Actors Theatre presentation, in association with the Great Lakes Theater Festival by special arrangement with the Acting Company, of a play in two acts by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Directed by Gerald Freedman,

Crew

Sets, Douglas W. Sclunidt; costumes, Theoni V. Aldredge; lighting, Mary Jo Dondlinger; sound, T. Richard Fitzgerald; music, Robert Waldman; production supervisor, Arthur Siccardi; production stage manager, Maureen F. Gibson; general manager, Niko Associates; press, Springer Associates; associate producer , John Miller-Stephany, managing director, Fred Walker. National Actors Theatre artistic director, Tony Randall; executive producer, Manny Kladitis. Opened Nov. 19, 1995, at the Lyceum Theatre. Reviewed Nov. 21; 924 seats; $ 50 top Running time: 2 HOURS, 40 MIN.

With

Cast: Mary Lou Rosato (Lady Sneerwell), Norman Snow (Snake/Moses), Simon Jones (Joseph Surface), Megan Dodds (Maria), Jennifer Harmon (Mrs. Candour), Philip Goodwin (Mr. Crabtree), Matt Bradford Sullivan (Sir Benjamin Backbite), Tony Randall (Sir Peter Teazle), Ron Randell (Rowley), Kate Forbes (Lady Teazle) , Ted Sorel (Sir Oliver Surface), Tom Hewitt (Charles Surface); Kevin Shinick, Richard Topol, Ray Virta, Allen Gilmore, Anthony M. Brown, Mathew Edwards, Derek Meader, Leslie Geraci.
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