“Zounds, Madam! You had no taste when you married me!”
Richard Brinsley Sheridan was born in Dublin, raised in England, and one of the major stars of the 18th Century English stage. His mother was a playwright and his father was an actor-manager. He studied at Harrow, settled in London at age 21, with his young wife, the enchantingly talented Elizabeth Linley (photo), daughter to composer Thomas Linley. In his comic operetta, The Duenna, Sheridan dramatizes their elopement and subsequent reunion with the father. (Note: Read further about Elizabeth. Can you tell I want you to? I’ve linked it twice. She was quite the catch, proposed to by many, and the cause of a bloody duel between Sheridan and Captain Thomas Mathews in 1772.)
Sheridan revived the dramatic form of the “comedy of manners” in which the affectations of society were satirized, following a tradition from the Greeks to Moliere to Goldsmith, moving forward to Oscar Wilde. Plot is secondary to wit and dialogue. Outrageous characters, familiar to London society, fill the stage. The plots inevitably involved disguise, sexual escapades and seductions.
attempting to clarify follow. You really have to see it to get it. It’s a play.
The School for Scandal describes three groups of characters in London, 1775:
The Teazles, Sneerwells and Surfaces.
Old Sir Peter Teazle has brought his vivacious country wife to London where she has discarded her country ways to plunge happily into London “society”, personified by Lady Sneerwell’s vicious band of gossips. (Sounds like Hollywood? New York? Pasadena?)
Two brothers, Joseph and Charles Surface, whose father died leaving them in Sir Peter’s care, are waiting for their uncle, Sir Oliver Surface, to return from India to give them their inheritance. Joseph is a hypocritical “man of morals” who has fooled Sir Peter but not Old Rowley, the family steward. Charles is a rascally but honest gambler, secretly beloved by Maria, Sir Peter’s recent ward.
Charles is also secretly desired by Lady Sneerwell who plots to foil Maria’s affection by aiding Joseph, who has eyes for Maria’s coming inheritance. Still with me? To complicate still further, Joseph has solicited the aid of young Lady Teazle and somehow become entangled in a flirtation with her.
It’s a timeless story of innocence in a world of seduction. Will we choose to be our better selves? Perhaps we shouldn’t have left Kansas after all.
From an actor’s point of view, comedy of manners, especially in this period, is deceptively difficult. It’s not poetry, so you don’t have that rhythm to rely on. The line of dialogue is very long and sweeps through to the end. The actor has to have enough breath to begin the line, hit all the points – nouns, verbs, adjectives – to make it clear, and finish with panache. The 18th Century audience delighted in the actor’s ability to accomplish this effortlessly. The problem for today’s actor is that such demands are rarely made in the naturalistic dialogue of television, film or modern plays. When Restoration dialogue is attempted it can very easily sound like senseless birds, archly chirping in English accents. We’re going to try to avoid that at Parson’s Nose, and portray the characters as people. We hope we do.
Running time for this one: Approximately 2 hours. Park accordingly.