Thursday, August 9, 2012

One Last Chance to Catch "The Rivals"

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival's lively and good-humored production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's "The Rivals" will take its final bow tomorrow night, sending young lovers Jack Absolute and Lydia Languish and her insufferable guardian Mrs. Malaprop off into the sunset one last time.

"The Rivals" boasts a smart, saucy script, full of high-flying wordplay and amusing romantic complications. It may've been Sheridan's first play, but it's a classic for a reason. And that reason is that people can be silly when it comes to love and sending up silly people never goes out of style.

In the beginning, we see that the very eligible Captain Absolute has been pretending to be poor, honest Ensign Beverly in order to woo lovely Lydia, who has hopelessly romantic tendencies from reading too many novels. Like the heroines of her books, Lydia wants to run off with a dashing ne'er-do-well, someone her guardian, Mrs. Malaprop, does not approve of.

Mrs. Malaprop, she of the mangled language who thinks there are allegories lying on the banks of the Nile, is determined to marry off Lydia to Jack Absolute, who is, of course, the same Beverly the girl already thinks herself in love with. But no one except Jack and his servant are aware that Jack and Beverly are the same man. 

Jack's dad, Sir Anthony Absolute, is equally resolute to marry his son off, and Dad wants to be the one doing the choosing. Even though they've both picked Lydia, Jack chafes under the idea that he has to bow to his father's wishes.

Lydia's friend Julia has a romantic entanglement of her own -- she loves young Faulkland, who eats himself up with doubt over Julia's true character. Faulkland is such a drama queen, he's sort of the male version of Miss Languish.

Meanwhile, there are other suitors for Lydia's hand, including Bob Acres, a hearty, somewhat oafish country dude, and Sir Lucious O'Trigger, a hot-headed Irishman who likes to duel. And everybody's correspondence is mishandled and misdirected by Lucy, Lydia's maid, who is collecting trinkets and payoffs from all sides.

The action involves cranky elders, impudent youth, conniving servants, a little eavesdropping, a bit of deception and a lot of misunderstandings. Classic romantic comedy.

For the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Deb Alley directs a sparkling cast that sells the material nicely. Dylan Paul and Gracyn Mix, who also play Orlando and Rosalind in this summer's "As You Like It," show good chemistry, poise and energy throughout, while Corliss Preston gives Mrs. Malaprop a feisty center that makes her really fun to watch. (Her hat, which makes her resemble a Crown Roast of Pork, is also adorable.)

David Sitler's wizened Sir Anthony and Alexander Pawlowski IV's cherubic Fighting Bob Acres are comic highlights, as is Anthony Talen, who makes a quivering mess of poor old Faulkland.

The costumes, designed by Dottie Engels, look very good -- I was especially fond of Captain Absolute's handsome uniform -- and John Stark's set is a wonder, flanked by gorgeous paintings of Bath, the fashionable English town where the play is set.

"The Rivals" started later than the other two shows in this year's Illinois Shakespeare Festival line-up, and it finishes up on Friday night at 8 pm. That means you have one last chance to see this charming show before these "Rivals" have departed. Don't miss your chance! Hie thee to "The Rivals."

By Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Illinois Shakespeare Festival
at Ewing Manor

Director: Deb Alley
Costume Designer: Dottie Engels
Scenic Designer: John Stark
Lighting Designer: Julie Mack
Sound Designer: Max Krembs
Stage Manager: Daniel D. Drake
Fight Director/Choreographer: Zach Powell
Voice/Text Coach: Kevin Rich

Cast: Matt Black, Amanda Catania, Megan Chaney, Nick Demeris, Michael Gamache, Trevon Jackson, Gracyn Mix, Dylan Paul, Alexander Pawlowski IV, Matt Penn, Corliss Preston, Brandon Rosen, Josh Samaniego, David Sitler, Andy Talen, and Lisa Wartenberg. 

Remaining performance: August 10, 2012

For ticket information, click here.

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