A fellow named Allardyce Nicoll once said of Sheridan's School For Scandal: "Sometimes we are inclined to be surfeited with too much of these intellectual fireworks." The Brattle Theatre's modern adaptation of the late 18th Century comedy of manners is a display of fireworks--intellectual and non-intellectual--that would make Mr. Nicoll turn over in his grave.
Whether the Brattle players transformed Sheridan's satire into a 20th Century fantasy because of a coherent dramatic theory or merely because it afforded an excellent vehicle for their own wild shenanigans is hard to say. I suspect it was a combination of the two. Certainly the sterility and hypocritical morality of Sheridan's London is analogous to literary theories of modern society. The company also apparently feels that the theatrical forms of the two ages are similar; in both centuries there is what Sheridan himself admitted was "an excessive opulence of wit," a lack of natural character delineation and of structural unity. The present production underlines this similarity by constant jibes at Christopher Fry, the Prince of Intellectual Fireworks (at one point there is a lengthy conversation-tango right out of his Ring Around the Moon).
Unfortunately The School For Scandal is, structurally speaking, one of the most complex of Sheridan's plays. There is a constant interweaving of characters, and even in its original staging the plot would be sufficiently hard to follow. With all the stylistic frills that the Brattle has appended for its own mystical purposes, it becomes practically impossible to unravel the play's intrigues.
But a coherent and logically consistent play is not the aim of the present production. A stylized tour de force, attempting to combine the fantastic dialogue of the 18th century with the equally fantastic actions of the 20th. Director Richard Baldridge is trying for a mood: with the help of unusual costumes and lighting effects he has achieved it completely.
The actors in this production are uniformly excellent. They all play degenerates of one sort or another, and the two most degenerate of the bunch, Lady Sneerwell and Lady Teazle, are superbly portrayed by Cavada Humphrey and Jan Farrand. The gossip-mongering fop, Sir Benjamin Backbite, is amusingly interpreted by Thayer David.