Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The School for Scandal
Director Richard Clifford has moved Sheridan's comedy of malicious gossip from its original period, 1777, to the 1890s, allowing scenic designer Tony Cisek to do remarkable things with minimal scenery: gilded lace curtains, ornamented screens and upholstered benches adequately represent lavish drawing rooms and libraries. Carol Bailey's costume designs take the opposite view, offering ostentatious plumed hats and heavy brocade gowns - and not just for the women.
The complicated plot, inspired by the Restoration comedies of a century before Sheridan's time, follows Lady Teazle (Kate Eastwood Norris), wife of the much older Sir Peter Teazle (David Sabin), in her attempts to join the fashionable London clique headed by barb-tongued Lady Sneerwell (Tom Story). Norris, who recently received her second Helen Hayes Award in two years, succeeds in making her character's witty remarks and occasional physical gags seem effortless. Sabin does best in his moments of gravity; he comes across as forced and inauthentic in scenes of eye-popping surprise and apoplectic rage.
The casting of a man as Lady Sneerwell is the most self-conscious part of the production, a literal representation of the deceptions that dominate the plot and an homage to the secret life of another great Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde. In company, Story appears as a stern dowager in a forbidding black dress; in private, 'her' intimates, such as sycophantic Snake (Shane Wallis), know the truth. Either way, he's having fun.
Unfortunately, the production suffers from one major flaw. Joseph Surface (Cody Nickell), romantic pursuer of both Lady Teazle and her husband's ward Maria (Laura C. Harris), must offer enough surface charm and polish to hide his true, grasping nature. As portrayed by Nickell, the character is undeniably smug and smarmy, from his slicked-down hair to his foppish clothes.