The Rivals proves that humor is timeless
Wordplay, slapstick, intricate costumes, a great cast — the School of Drama’s current production, The Rivals, has a lot to offer audiences. Although the show was written in 1775 and is set in Bath, England, the audience is still able to follow the story and appreciate the jokes scattered throughout the dialogue.
The show follows the dramatic Lydia Languish, played by senior acting major Ginna Le Vine, on her quest for love and marriage. Plot twists involving the pursuit of love plague all members of the cast, as The Rivals is full of deceit, intense emotion, and confusion at every turn.
Wordplay is one of the funniest parts of the show, easily causing the audience to forget that the play was written over 200 years ago. The old Mrs. Malaprop, played by senior acting major Alexandra Spieth, is obsessed with proper speech, yet incorrectly uses sophisticated words throughout the play. Her use of “pineapple” for “pinnacle” and “perpendicular” for “particular” kept the audience in stitches.
The show is also full of slapstick. In one scene, Mrs. Malaprop repeatedly strikes Lydia on the head when the older woman is particularly annoyed with the younger lady’s insolence. Bob Acres, played by senior musical theater major Joseph Maddox, also provides a lot of comic relief through his constant threats of violence, which included punching the air, gnashing his teeth, and working himself into an excited frenzy. “The Fag,” played by senior acting major Jacob Tischler, receives constant physical and emotional abuse from his master and others, providing some good laughs.
“I am delighted to come to Carnegie Mellon University to direct one of my favorite plays,” director Annie Tyson said in a university press release. “It is almost a perfect play in that it has a real balance of witty high comedy with a slightly darker underbelly.” Tyson, a visiting director, actor, and teacher from England, also performed in the play in the 1980s and was a visiting lecturer at Carnegie Mellon from 2005 to 2007.
The cast of the show worked well together. The romantic connection between Julia Melville, played by senior acting major Grace Rao, and Faulkland, played by senior musical theater major Jon Jorgenson, provides a nice dynamic in contrast to Lydia’s unending drama. The show also includes monologues in which actors directly address the audience. These longer, individual moments allow the actors to express their interpretations of the characters and to showcase their talents.
The costumes in the show are intricate, from the hairpieces and jewelry to the shoes that each actor wears. In an article on the School of Drama’s website, associate professor of costume production Brian Russman commented on the authenticity of the female costumes. He noted that the school’s costume production students “are making the dresses from the skin out, which includes the proper undergarments for the period like corsets, petticoats, and the appropriate wigs, as well as the trims on the dresses that fashionable ladies of the time would have worn.”
Such attention to detail added to the atmosphere created onstage, especially since very few props were used — never much more than a table, a chair or two, and a tray with drinks. The costumes evoked a sense of period for the audience. Lydia’s costume, in particular, complemented her ditsy demeanor — it was frilly, pink, and topped off with pearls and a head of curls.
The show’s program includes plenty of useful information about the period in which the play was written, as well as insights that make the play even funnier. Mrs. Malaprop’s name is a play on a French phrase mal à propos, which translates to “out of place” or “inappropriate” — fitting, considering her continued misuse of words. Bob Acres’ name is a reference to the land, since he is the only character to come from the country and is presumed to be of a lower class than his fellow men.
Audience reactions to the show were positive. Laughter could be heard throughout the show in response to Mrs. Malaprop’s misuse of words, Bob Acres’ frenzies about getting into a fight, and Lydia’s shrieking and shouting. The combination of different overlapping plot lines culminates in an ending that ties up all the loose ends and gives the audience resolution about what happens next for all of the characters. Another nice touch to the very end of the play is a period-style dance that the entire cast performs together.
Although the play runs over three hours long, it is well worth making time to see and is sure to provide plenty of laughs.