Last night we had the pleasure of seeing Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy The School for Scandal at the Mark Taper Forum. Though the play is written and set in 1777 (and presented here with charming period costumes), the clever plot and witty dialog prove this classic comedy of manners to be as timeless as scandal itself. For this play, Oscar Wilde would have to make an exception to his bon mot that "scandal is gossip made tiresome by morality", as the interplay between gossip and morality here is anything but tiresome. The play opens with us meeting the manipulative Lady Sneerwell plotting with her protege Joseph Surface. I was immediately reminded of Dangerous Liaisons, and this play turns on a similar theme, but in a light-hearted rather than cruel treatment. (Sheridan's comedy actually preceded that Laclos novel by 5 years.) The characters are all charicatures, but one would easily guess that just from perusing the dramatis personae, which includes Lady Sneerwell (the gossip manipulator), brothers Joseph and Charles Surface (who may not be what they appear), Sir Benjamin Backbite (a pernicious gossipping fop), and Mrs. Candour (who tells all). All the classic elements are here -- characters in disguise, double-crossing strategems, secrets, people hiding behind screens and in closets -- all masterfully woven together in a thoroughly enjoyable piece. The Taper production is perfectly tuned, so that we can laugh at and with the characters, as well as sympathize with them. Brian Bedford (Sir Peter Teazle) was charming in his part, mugging to the audience as suits the piece but without being over the top. Carolyn Seymour (Lady Sneerwell) is perfectly Machiavellian, and Marianne Muellerleile is a riot as the irrepressible Mrs. Candour. All the performances were spot on, and kudos to Brian Bedford's direction.
If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me. And go see this play!