Review: The Rivals @ Seattle Shakespeare Company

Review: The Rivals @ Seattle Shakespeare Company – 1/18/20

Calder Jameson Shilling and Jocelyn Maher in The Rivals – photo by John Ulman

“Am I not a lover; ay, and a romantic one too?” entreats Captain Jack Absolute, one of the protagonists in The Rivals. Quick answer: Yes.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s first play premiered in 1775’s London. While it’s had numerous productions and adaptations, including an episode of TV show Maverick (weird!), this year it gets an updated yet faithful treatment from Seattle Shakespeare Company.

Themes go a bit like this: There’s mistaken identity. There are threats from an angry dad. There’s young love wanting to elope. There’s Mrs. Malaprop, who cannot get her words straight. And there’s a ludicrous duel. Put it all together, not necessarily in that order, and it is damn good fun.

The Rivals stands out as a play with excellent younger and older parts. While Julie Briskman’s Mrs. Malaprop and an entirely unrecognizable Bradford Farwell’s Sir Anthony Absolute aren’t really old, for the time period I suppose the parts were considered past it. But those parts are a couple of the most wonderful ones you can find. Briskman is lovable, and, although Farwell is hissingly reptilian, he’s not really a villain. They’re both totally appealing.

Additional handsome cast members, including the lovers of The Rivals are equally humorous and moving: Avery Clark as Captain Jack Absolute (I caught him as John Seward last year in ACT‘s Dracula-cool stuff); Jocelyn Maher as Julie Melville (she was also great in last year’s Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of She Stoops to Conquer) particularly stood out. Big praise for Calder Jameson Shilling’s Faulkand. He had an almost cartoony twitchiness. Sophia Franzella’s Lucy was clever and adorable.

The production avails itself of all the seventeenth century foppery one could ask for. And I ask for a lot. Perhaps I am never more disappointed in a play of this time frame when an attempt is made to dress it up completely in contemporary attire. There’s no danger of that in these costumes. Fabulous attire abounds in the beautiful dresses and dandy jackets, pants and even male hosiery. The wigs are sublime. The female characters of Lydia Languish and Julia Melville wear pink and blue, respectively, with huge cotton candy wigs, while the perfectly over the top Sir Anthony Absolute has a pink nose and even a bandage on his right foot. Probably for the gout, a much-lamented condition in the time period’s literature.

The many scene changes utilized placards to mark locations. In the play’s text, the jumping back and forth can be a bit exhausting. Here it’s funny. For outdoor scenes the designer created cute jigsaw like bushes. I also liked the hearts built around the stage, giving a gingerbread house framework. The 1980s get a lot of love in Seattle Shakespeare’s The Rivals. Look out for early Madonna and Michael Jackson references and a nod to Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus.” As the audience filed out after the show the house played Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” a fitting choice for a play focusing on love and placement: I was feeling part of the scenery/I walked right out of the machinery/My heart going boom, boom, boom. . .

Spoiler alert: wait for Mrs. Malaprop to get the last word. Whether you agree with her or not, in her assessment, I think, she selects the word she really means.

The Rivals runs through February 2nd, 2020.