Richard Brinsley Sheridan was 24 when he wrote The Rivals (1775), a “safe play for young people—a Restoration comedy without sex,” as Graham Greene said. His first independent attempt at playwriting, it is slapdash down to the dashed-off punctuation. A flop at its premiere, the play benefited from a ten-day rewrite, reopening as a smash. More interested in politics than in playwriting, Sheridan turned this messy play (one plot, three subplots) into a comedy about the politics of courtship and making it in society. It also contains numerous autobiographical elements (the wild Irishman, the social-climbing bumpkin, the romance-obsessed girl, the domineering father, the contemplated elopement, the dueling, etc.), albeit turned into farce. Mark Lamos has directed the Lincoln Center production with plentiful verve verging on hyperactivity, on a lovely outdoor set by John Lee Beatty begging to revolve into an interior that never materializes. (For economy?) Jess Goldstein’s costumes are scrumptious, and Robert Waldman provides jaunty music. With the exception of Jeremy Shamos’s overdone Bob Acres, the cast is adequate, although Emily Bergl’s Lydia does not sufficiently charm, and Dana Ivey’s Mrs. Malaprop lacks bloat for her malapropisms to puncture. Brian Murray would be funnier were he, as called for, more Hibernian, but Richard Easton as Sir Anthony, James Urbaniak as Fag, and several others sparkle. The revelation is Matt Letscher’s Jack Absolute, a truly absolute performance.
By Richard Brinsley Sheridan
At the Vivian Beaumont Theater