Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Witty, Charming “School” Offers Lesson on Human Nature
You may be surprised to learn that things haven’t changed much since 1777. That’s the year “A School for Scandal”, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s jaunty tale of sexual intrigue, first appeared onstage at London’s Drury Theatre, much to the amusement of sophisticated audiences of the day.
The classic comedy of manners in five acts is now being presented by Oakland University’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance at the on-campus Varner Studio Theatre. This frothy delight, filled with surprises and biting humor, shows how gossip can be elevated to high art. This is especially relevant to modern audiences, what with “fake news” and innuendo traveling at lightning speed via Social Media and the 24/7 news cycle.
The cast and crew consist of both students and faculty members. This is an ambitious project even for professionals, but it’s hard to remember that you’re watching a student production, the performances and staging are that good. There’s an originality and freshness in David Gram’s direction, and a lively spark of wicked humor that energizes the whole show from beginning to end. And it’s presented in theatre-in-the-round, so there aren’t many bad seats in the house.
Occasional jolts of contemporary music, rather than seeming out of place, are skillfully inserted to provide emotional continuity between the Eighteenth and Twenty-first centuries. But there is period music as well. Certain young gentlemen of leisure sing a bawdy song about a mermaid with drunken glee.
Standout performances include: Mannon McIntosh as the youthful Lady Teazle and Michael Lison as her much older husband, Sir Peter Teazle; Mark Ujkstivani and Alex Benoit as brothers Joseph and Charles Surface; and Kristy Castellese as their wealthy aunt, Dame Olivia Surface. Andrew Barikmo delivers a hilariously funny turn as the always-hyperventilating Mrs Candor, and who can forget Lady Sneerwell, played by Lucy Price?
Costumes by Leslie Littell are truly beautiful, and some of them, a touch mysterious. What is that binary code pattern on some of the characters’ outfits – secret messages? Lighting, sound, stagecraft – all are worthy of a very good regional theatre company.
The dialogue needs better enunciation (maybe less of the English accents?) to better enjoy what’s being said. Perhaps more nuanced character development and sharper scene transitions would improve an already excellent show.
When: Now through February 11, 2018
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
10:00 a.m. Friday, February 9
2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets $8 to $15
Where: Varner Studio Theatre
371 Varner Drive
Auburn Hills, MI 48309