A play that was written 150 years ago, assuming a capable performance, is pretty much of a fixed quantity, so far as box-office success is concerned. Those whose tastes incline to the classic will patronize it, and not quite succeed in filling all the seats,--everyone else will automatically stay away. This is unfortunate in the case of "The School for Scandal", for as sheer entertainment, all hobbledehoy about art and the higher drama aside, it is probably the best play now showing in Boston. If the theatregoing public would only view it with the same open-mindedness given the latest New York success, it would probably outstrip four out of five of its competitors in patronage as well as in intrinsic merit.
How this present performance at the Hollis of the great Sheridan classic compares with the famous performances of the past, this reviewer is unable to say, but it is hard to see how any comparison could redound very greatly to its discredit. To begin with, Basil Dean has given an exceptionally sane and skillful production. To quote his own words in a program note: "Upon the vast, bare, stage of the old Theatre Royal Drury Lane in the year 1777, under the fitful light of oil lamps and candles, without the aid of doors, ceilings, and the usual accompaniments of modern stage realism, . . . the success of this classic of English Comedy was first obtained. Therefore, believing that the play calls for some of that breadth of treatment to which dramatists of other days were accustomed, we have endeavored to reproduce in some measure the simplicity and atmosphere of the Eighteenth Century stage."
To comment with perfect fairness on the individual performances would be merely to write a catalogue of praise for each character. Miss May Collins' "Lady Teazle" was a delightfully fresh and vivacious piece of work, and one of real power in the dramatic movements. Sir Peter Teazle by O. P. Heggle, and Sir Oliver by Mr. Ben Field were also particularly notable; and among the minor parts Mr. De Angelis, as Moses, was the best stage Jew we have ever seen, bar none. James Dale as Joseph Surface was oily enough and hypocritical enough to damn forever the "man of sentiment", perhaps too much so to make plausible his imposing on honest old Sir Peter.
In one of the endless curtain speeches at the recent opening of the new Repertory Theatre, someone dropped a remark to the effect that Shakespeare and Sheridan remained always true to their art, and never lowered themselves by writing down to popular taste. Giving currency to such an idea is surely unfortunate, particularly at this time. Few play-wrights have even gauged the market with greater acumen than these two: and few ever wrote more distinctly to please the common man. It is greatly to be regretted that a play like "The School for Scandal" which was written originally for the entertainment of the masses should now have become so exclusively the property of the upper crust of the theatregoing public.