Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 16
Great RivalsAn 18th century comedy shines with PCPA's touch
BY CATHERINE SHEN
Moments of romantic foolishness, the idea of eloping with a secret lover, and defying the wishes of conventional society seem never to go out of style.
A lively production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 comic masterpiece The Rivals is a refreshing treat for theater-goers looking to indulge in scenes of familiar romantic ridiculousness that can still be seen in everyday life—perhaps through the gossip of relationship issues around the office cooler, the rumors permeating stories of who’s getting married, and maybe thinking your own sister could do so much better than hanging around that boyfriend of hers who has a nose ring.
Presented by Santa Maria’s PCPA, the 18th century satirical comedy brings the pages of modern romance novels onto the stage with flourishes of irony and silliness.
The play revolves around two sets of lovers—Lydia Languish (Stephanie Philo) and Capt. Jack Absolute (Quinn Mattfeld); and Julia (Andrea Hilbrant) and Faulkland (Tony Carter)—and is set in the ocean resort town of Bath, where high society enjoys lavish entertainment and ritzy fashion. Lydia is obsessed with the notion of becoming just like one of her beloved characters in her romance novels, to elope and live in “romantic poverty” with her penniless lover, Ensign Beverly—a disguised Capt. Absolute, who hopes to win her love through his own design.
Faulkland, who is Capt. Absolute’s best friend, is deeply in love with Lydia’s cousin, Julia. But his narcissism, deep self-importance, and infinite jealousy constantly put her loyalty to the test, which ultimately strains her too far.
Lydia, all the while, must dance around her aunt and guardian, Mrs. Malaprop (Kitty Balay), who is determined to break up her niece’s frivolous match while she herself is involved in a clandestine relationship under an assumed name. She’s infamous for completely misusing words but consistently uses difficult vocabulary in order to display her highly educated mind.
“Sure, if I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!” Malaprop says proudly of her language skills. The greatest irony of all is that everyone is aware of her butchering the language, but no one seems to care enough to actually correct her.
Unfortunately, Capt. Absolute/Ensign Beverly also isn’t entirely free to pursue his own romantic wishes, as his tyrannical and nonsensical father, Sir Anthony Absolute (Erik Stein), barges in at the most inopportune moments and barks orders for his son to oblige a financially convenient arranged marriage with none other than the Lydia Capt. Absolute is so infatuated with.
Always dressed lavishly and with dreams of romantic hope, Philo’s Lydia embodies the perfect sense of a spoiled, rich, young woman who lives in an alternate reality. Mattfeld as Capt. Absolute is dashing and connects with the audience flawlessly through his various moments of breaking the third wall. His facial expressions often speak louder than words, which allow the scenes to be even funnier.
Carter’s Faulkland is convincing as a jealous lover, causing several female members of the audience to cringe in his “romantic despairs,” while Hilbrant’s Julia, a high contrast to Lydia, displays a good enough sense to reject a man who can’t accept her affections without distrust.
Armed with skilled comedic timing, Balay’s Malaprop is as flighty as her opulent dresses, and her language-massacring, along with dramatic facial expressions, shows she clearly enjoys her part and is having a field day with it.
Stein’s Sir Anthony is larger than life, blustering around, drowning his son with more than enough fatherly wisdom. He delivers his advice-giving speeches with such passion it would come as no surprise if each audience member were thinking, “I’m so glad he isn’t my own father.”
Mixed into the romantic complication is Bob Acres (Evans Eden Jarnefeldt), who holds just enough eccentricity as another admirer of Lydia, creating fantastic hand gestures that coincide with his speech; and Sir Lucius (Peter S. Hadres), an amused Irishman thinking he’s wooing Lydia, but instead unknowingly writes love notes to Malaprop.
As if the craziness weren’t enough, in comes Fag (Jeffrey Parker Boyce) as Capt. Absolute’s manservant, who shimmies around with such outrageous flamboyant presence, audience members can’t help but smile each time he appears on stage.
Directed by Patricia Troxel, the witty comedy kept the audience laughing almost the entire time with its fair pace, unfolding each layer. It didn’t take the audience long to learn the ridiculousness of the characters, all the while being reminded that the problems they face aren’t so very different 200 hundred years later.
A re-creation of the Royal Crescent by set designer Heidi Hoffer is delightfully interactive; it can switch scenes from a drawing room into a dueling courtyard seamlessly without distraction. Along with furniture pieces that transform into different architecture and buildings, it was as if a smaller version of Bath had come before the stage.
Contributor Catherine Shen proudly manifolds her volatile vocabulary. Send comments to the arts editor at email@example.com.
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