The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp Review

The Rivals
By Carolyn Balducci

There, Sir! an attack upon my language! what do you think of that? -- an aspersion upon my parts of speech! was ever such a brute! Sure if I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs.
---Mrs. Malaprop (Act.II.3)
Carol Schultz  & Sean McNall
Carol Schultz & Sean McNall
(Photo: Codie K. Fitch)
If Sheridan's character, Mrs. Malaprop (played to confection by Carol Schulz) could have reviewed The Pearl Theatre Company's new production of The Rivals, she'd probably have waxed eloquent about the performance being so cleverly eradicated that all members of the audience can reprehend every witan line. Being a woman of her time, she'd also be likely to have praised the play's evolutionary theme of women's literality but wonder whatever happened to the proto-Feminist catalogue at the end!

Sheridan's own youthful ventures -- an elopement, two near-fatal duels and an estrangement from his father over his rash behavior -- form the autobiographical springboard for The Rivals which he wrote at age 22. Whatever personal or political themes might be subliminally woven into the play, ever since The Rivals premiered in January 1775 it has been regarded as one of the best plays in the English canon.

Indeed, like many comedies from The Menaechmi to The Fantasticks, The Rivals includes a conundrum of seemingly unnecessary disguises, misunderstandings and misinformation that threaten to thwart or confound lovers. It takes this one step further, however, by showing how being in love thrusts lovers into such a dither that they can hardly recognize themselves. No wonder then, that Fag, (Edward Seamon) a manservant, would explain that "Love. . . has been a masquerader ever since the days of Jupiter."

As the story unfolds, the overly romantic Lydia Languish (Rachel Botchan) is fixated on the idea of eloping with a penniless man. Since she is an intelligent and well-read girl, she's quite right to want reassurance that she is loved for herself and not her vast inheritance. To transform himself Lydia's ideal love object, dashing Captain Jack Absolute (Sean McNall), has disguised himself as plain old Ensign Beverley and feeds her fantasy about running away, even though that will mean forfeiting her fortune. As an officer and gentleman, Jack knows there is no romance in poverty, so he is merely trying to buy time with this charade. In any event, he is genuinely crazy about Lydia and her fortune is just a sweetener to the deal.

While Lydia plans her getaway outfit and plots the escape route, one of Jack's letters is intercepted and the relationship is discovered. Lydia's aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, hastily negotiates a marriage for Lydia with Sir Anthony Absolute (Robert Hock) with his son, Captain Jack Absolute, a.k.a. Ensign Beverley. Two other wannabe suitors for Lydia's hand in marriage turn up to claim her, like explorers planting a flag on virgin soil. One is Jack's buddy from back home, the rustic Bob Acres (Dominic Cuskern). The other is the pugnacious fortune-hunting Irish baronet, Sir Lucius O'Trigger (Dan Daily). Malaprop has been writing love letters to O'Trigger under a pseudonym but her clever and greedy maid, Lucy (Celeste Ciulla) has led him to believe the sender is none other than the nubile Lydia. When Lydia discovers that she is being contracted to marry her sweetheart, she sends Jack packing.

Naturally, with authoritarian fathers, conniving servants, squabbling lovers, phantom rivals and aliases abounding, the screwball events lead to a six-way duel among Acres vs. his rival "Beverley," Jack vs. Sir Lucius, and Faulkland vs. anyone who comes down the pike. Disaster is averted when Sir Anthony, Malaprop, Julia and Lydia, as well as Fag and David (Patrick Toon) arrive in the nick of time.

With this outstanding production, the Pearl Repertory upholds its twenty-year tradition of virtually flawless performances and excellent staging of classic theater. Each member of the cast deserves praise for his or her effortless and precise rendering of comic lines and subtle gestures. Special praise is due the effervescent interpretation of scenes between the neurotic Faulkland (Christopher Moore) and his fiercely rational fiancée Julia Melville (Eunice Wong). In their skillful verbal sparring, the gracious Ms. Wong and the Seinfeldian Mr. Moore transcend the somewhat preachy material and manage to hold up a mirror to our own foolishness and insecurities.

There were few flaws in the performance, but the spartan stage design seemed raw. The handsome costumes appeared to be washed out by unimaginative and static lighting. There were few props to break the monotony apart from some odd chairs that were never sat on, as if they had to be returned to Bloomingdale's for credit. Poor Lydia Languish had to perch on a stiff little bench, instead of reclining on a chaise-lounge as befits her seductive-sounding name. Another observation concerning the theater itself was the need for better air circulation. Overall, none of these minor issues distracted from such an excellent performance. The Rivals is a must see!

Editor's Note: Sheridan's play has enjoyed many productions and this is the third time we've had a chance to write about it at CurtainUp.
The Rivals in the Berkshires )
The Rivals as a Concert Staging

Written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
Director: Robert Neff Williams
Cast: Ed Seamon, Dominic Cuskern, Rachel Botchan, Celeste Ciulla, Eunice Wong, Carol Schultz, Robert Hock, Sean McNall, Christopher Moore, Dan Daily, Patrick Toon
Sound & Light Design: Stephen Petrilli
Scenic & Properties Design: Sarah Lambert
Costume Design: Frank Champa
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission. The Pearl Theatre Company is located at 80 St. Marks Place, NYC, and (212) 598-9802.
The Rivals runs 9/21/2003 through 11//23/03. Sundays & Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays at 2 p.m.
Starting 11/2, it alternates with The Merchant of Venice. See for details
Reviewed by Carolyn Balducci based on performance of 9/21/03

Mendes at the Donmar
Our Review

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers

The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from