Leave it to Red Bull Theater, the youthful, scrappy company that has made a niche out of producing the sort of non-Shakespeare classical drama that other companies won’t even dare to touch (including violent Jacobean tragedies), to breathe new life into Richard Sheridan’s rarely-performed 1777 English comedy of manners “The School for Scandal.”
Sheridan’s work falls into what drama professors sometimes call “neo-Restoration comedy”: plays that inherited elements of the Restoration comedies that had been popular 100 years earlier (i.e. the irresistible rake, the cuckolded husband, acts of deception, countless witty expressions) but were less sexually explicit and instead stressed the virtues of middle-class morality.
“The School for Scandal” satirizes the fashions and out-of-control gossiping of aristocratic London society. One plot involves the long-lost guardian of two young men, who appears before them in different guises in order to expose their real personalities before finally revealing his true self. The other follows a petulant young wife who is suspected of cheating on her much older husband.
Marc Vietor’s smart and stylish, fully energized, delightfully over-the-top production brings together a dynamic 14-person cast that combines veterans including Frances Barber, Dana Ivey, Henry Stram and Mark Linn-Baker with terrific young actors. In their hands, a convoluted plot feels fresh and effortless.
It’s a shame that the production officially opened at the height of the annual onslaught of Broadway openings in late April and that it is set to close on Sunday. Here’s hoping that Red Bull finds a way to put “The School for Scandal” back in session for all the students who have yet to attend class.