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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The School for Scandal

School For Scandal
Cody Nickell, David Sabin and
Kate Eastwood Norris

The production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal now at Washington's Folger Theatre sounded better in advance than it turned out to be in performance. While the play features a cast of noteworthy area actors, including David Marks, Hugh Nees, Catherine Flye, and John Lescault, the overall effect is scattered and the production only occasionally reaches the comic heights.

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.

Folger Theatre
The School for Scandal
May 7th June 15th
By Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Sir Harry Bumper/Servant: Steve Beall
Charles Surface: Clinton Brandhagen
Sir Benjamin Backbite: Nathaniel P. Claridad
Mrs. Candour: Catherine Flye
Maria: Laura C. Harris
Crabtree/Moses: John Lescault
Rowley: David Marks
Sir Oliver Surface: Hugh Nees
Joseph Surface: Cody Nickell
Lady Teazle: Kate Eastwood Norris
Sir Peter Teazle: David Sabin
Maid: Margo Seibert
Careless: Theodore M. Snead
Lady Sneerwell: Tom Story
Snake/Trip: Shane Wallis
Directed by Richard Clifford
201 E. Capitol St., S.E.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-544-7077 or www.folger.edu.


Photo: Carol Pratt


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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