“The School for Scandal”: not so scandalous after all

Katie Kasper

“The School for Scandal” – let’s just say it wouldn’t be my favorite. This Irish restoration comedy was written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1777 and performed by the Lawrence University Theatre Department on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights of last week. While the student actors managed to salvage this sinking ship of a play, the show barely made it out of snore-worthy.
Here’s the play in a nutshell: Lady Sneerwell – get used to blatant names – decides she wants to cause some mayhem. She and her sidekick Snake work with Joseph Surface to undermine his brother Charles Surface’s reputation.
Lady Sneerwell sits at a desk, then moves to a chair, then lies on a sofa, all the while gossiping, plotting and sneering. Five acts later, all the gossipers have been outed and the two lovebirds, Maria and Charles, can finally be together. How scandalous. Moral of the story: gossip is bad.
Unfortunately, this is a lesson the majority of the population learned from “Sesame Street” at age 4. Perhaps this play was more captivating in 1777 to an audience unacquainted with Big Bird and his invisible friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus.
Seriously though, “The School for Scandal” probably entertained a 1777 audience fabulously. Members of the gentry class lazing about, discussing money, marriage and scandal – what 18th century viewer wouldn’t enjoy watching that?
It’s the equivalent of following Perez Hilton on Twitter and then watching him get punched in the face by a Black Eyed Peas bodyguard. The key to keeping a play like this entertaining is keeping the performance sharp and the adaptation relevant. Perhaps this play was just a poor choice.
The Lawrence University Theatre Department’s adaptation was decent overall; the costumes and scenery were appropriate and the acting was quality. Some of the characters were even humorous at first, like Mrs. Candour, who continuously reaffirmed her hate of gossip and then followed with news of some scandal, which she would, of course, never dream of repeating. However, these jokes got old fast and the plot became predictable.
Although the acting was overall favorable, it was also inconsistent. While some characters, like Sir Peter, were over the top, others seemed impassionate. I don’t know if it was the script, the directing or the actors, but if most characters just stare impassively in the distance while another character speaks, why should the audience act interested?
Aspects of the play that were obviously intended to be comical, like the clumsy maid or the previously mentioned Mrs. Candour, were humorously-handicapped because they were so blatantly intended to be funny. Though the students working on the play did their best to salvage what they could, perhaps “The School for Scandal” should attend the school for subtlety and subtext.