"Balay shines once again." - "The Rivals is hysterical" -Santa Maria Times
"A refreshing treat." -Santa Maria Sun
Lydia Languish reads romantic novels: she loves “Ensign Beverly.” Capt. Jack absolute loves Lydia: he’s disguised as “Ensign Beverly.” Bob Acres loves Lydia too: he’s a fool. Sir Anthony absolute loves his own way: he’s a boor. Sir Lucius O’Trigger loves “Delia”: he thinks she’s Lydia in disguise. Mrs. Malaprop loves to butcher English: she is “Delia” in disguise. Faulkland loves Julia: he’s always jealous. Julia loves Faulkland: she’s always patient. Lucy loves money: she delivers all the letters. Fag loves gossip: he’s always talking. No wonder, but great laughter, that rivalries ensue. Sheridan’s satirical masterpiece surrounds us with a symphony of exuberant laughter, youth and romance, played out with wit and wisdom in 18th Century Bath.
--Sheridan's sophisticated and comedic language will be best appreciated by children 12 and older--
The Rivals Generously sponsored by Dr. Dennis and Franziska Shepard
Written in 1774, The Rivals was Richard Brinsley Sheridan's first play and a classic example of "comedy of manners." (Comedy of manners is a comic style that reflects the life, ideals and manners of upper class society based on its traditions and ideology. The players strive to maintain a mask of social etiquette and artifice whilst revealing to the audience what lies behind such behaviors. The artificial becomes real and the real becomes artifice -- especially when dealing with romance and finance.) As a young newlywed living in the socialite world of Bath, England, Sheridan was soon forced to "recoup" his financial position by producing something literary that would pay. His wife, Elizabeth Linley, was an accomplished operatic performer, but Sheridan had insisted upon her "retirement" upon their marriage. Now he was forced to earn enough to cover the couple's sizable monthly debts. In the past, Sheridan had written essays, political tracts, and some limited poetry, but this was his first dramatic effort. But at 23 and fearless, Sheridan completed the enterprise in less than a month.
First performed at Covent Garden, London on Jan.17 of 1775, The Rivals was universally censored by audiences and critics for its bawdiness, its caricature of the Irish gentleman, and its length. Lee, the actor playing Sir Lucius O'Trigger, directly addressed a fruit throwing audience with the question, "By the powers, is it personal? Is it me or the matter?" Apparently it was both! Sheridan withdrew and rewrote. And in his new preface to the play allowed that "I see no reason why the author of a play should not regard a first night's audience as a candid and judicious friend attending, in behalf of the public, at his last rehearsal. If he can dispense with flattery, he is sure at least of sincerity, and even though the annotation be rude, he may rely upon the justness of the comment." The play reopened on Jan.28 to remarkable acclaim; it went on to be a favorite of both the royal family and George Washington.
Set in the 18th century spa town of Bath (noted in this period for its high society, its emphasis on conspicuous consumption, and its love affair with fashion and folly), the play focuses on two sets of lovers - Lydia and Jack/Julia and Faulkland. Lydia aspires to a life like those in her popular romance novels - all romance, no finance. To woo her, Jack pretends to be the poverty-stricken Ensign Beverly with whom she will elope. Mrs. Malaprop, Lydia's guardian who continually misuses language by confusing her intended word with one of a similar sound, is the moralistic guardian who would prevent this match. Jack's father, Sir Anthony, has arranged a marriage of financial convenience for his son with the very Lydia of Jack's romantic intentions. Confusions ensue as Jack and Lydia pursue the same goals with layers of masks to hide their intentions. Meanwhile, Jack's BFF, Faulkland, is deeply in love with Julia, but is infinitely jealous and constantly tests her fidelity. The confusions that ensue from this behavior reveal them as the archetypal lovers from the sentimental comedies so popular in the period.
In 1770's England, social class distinctions were "right and required." The top of the pyramid was the royal family, followed by titled aristocrats of various degrees, and then the lower aristocratic orders known as gentry ("gentlemen" was the largest class of all). Grounded in the land which provided their wealth and power, they controlled England through the military, the Church of England, and most importantly, the House of Lords. Primogeniture (eldest son inherits all) was the rule and the only alternative means of entry into such society came through marriage. Nobility might marry an untitled heiress to increase the family assets. As a result, the primary goal for an eligible young woman was to marry an equal or to marry up. And once married, a woman was expected to conform and know very little about anything, especially books. The privileges of these men and women ranged from excessive entertainments of sports, gambling, and various recreational activities to a style of eating and drinking that regularly approached gluttony. While encouraged to adopt manners and good public behavior, it was an era of verbal wit and abuse, as well as an era of decorum and forms of physical aggression such as dueling.
The Rivals is now acknowledged as one of the great comic masterworks and has given birth to the rhetorical term for a speaker of language who misapplies or misapprehends words - "Malapropism." And while many have reveled in its wit and joyous celebration of language and foolish romanticism, many critics have noted that like all good comedy, it seeks to correct social behavior by exposing the folly of period marriage customs, the dehumanizing and dangerous infatuation with dueling, and argues for moderation and common sense in all human relations. In Sheridan's work it is also recognition of the importance of women's education, and the need to acknowledge the intelligence and ambition of the young over the mere pretentiousness and traditions of the established generation. As George Bernard Shaw observed, "When a thing is funny, search it for a hidden truth."
About the production
For director Patricia Troxel and her design team, this witty comedy is a celebration of romance, panache and the City of Bath. Set designer Heidi Hoffer has recreated the architecture of Bath in an interactive manner that allows us to see the city and also see its interiors as each furniture piece transforms from architecture to functional object. She has also literally drawn on the views of the town to replicate both the Royal Crescent and its "ha ha" (a period landscape feature that allowed for great expanses of lawn but kept the animal life on that vista at an appropriate distance.)
The costumes by Fred Deeben acknowledge the fashionista style of the age in both their design and color. It's an era of opulence and extravagance in detail and in "girth." And the underpinnings are sometimes as crucial as the dress itself. The lighting works to match the contemporary "fashion house style" and helps to define time and specific locales, as well as exteriors and interiors. And the delightful music of the time - Noelle Hoffman is sound designer - reveals both the wit and charm of its lyrics and its celebration of the human voice and the keyboard as dominant instruments for the era. It also reminds us that all social classes appreciated the energy and rhythm of a good dance tune.
About the author
Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1751, Richard Brinsley Sheridan is best remembered as a playwright despite his other three illustrious careers - he was manager and part-owner of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, a parliamentary member of Stafford, and a wit of fashion and acclaim in high society. In truth, he was a playwright for a mere 2 years between the ages of 23 and 25. His father had been an actor and theatre manager and his mother, a playwright and novelist. He lived with the family in Dublin until he attended the elite Harrow Grammar school in 1762. He was miserable at boarding school and rejoined his family when they moved to London in 1770.
When the family relocated to Bath upon Thomas Sheridan's appointment as head of the Academy of Oratorios, Richard met Elizabeth Linley. She was a celebrated beauty and an accomplished soprano contracted to marry a 60 year old country squire who suddenly dissolved the engagement without explanation. The subsequent effect on Elizabeth's reputation left her at the mercy of a lecherous married captain, Thomas Matthews. Elizabeth confided her plight to Sheridan and they eloped to France in 1772. Matthews claimed that his honor had been compromised by letters that Sheridan had written to him. The pair dueled at Covent Garden and Sheridan emerged the victor. Matthews then revoked his apology, challenged Sheridan to another duel at Kingsdown, near Bath where Sheridan was severely injured. This time Matthews fled to France and the Sheridans remarried publically.
The couple moved to London and struggled financially despite Sheridan's success in the theatre and Elizabeth's private musicale performances. In 1780, after losing most of his income in the closure of the Theatre Royal (for debts), Sheridan entered parliament in the House of Commons. He spoke avidly for freedom of the press, the abolition of slavery and for Catholic emancipation. He also defended Home Rule and spoke of the French Revolution as a demonstration of freedom. As a prominent Whig and acknowledged Radical Liberal, he found himself out of power on numerous occasions. He was noted as one of the leading orators of his generation.
In 1792, Elizabeth died as did his young daughter. His son Thomas survived. He remarried in 1795 (Hester Jane Ogle) but things did not fare well. He did however leave a second surviving son, Charles. In 1799, his last play failed to find an audience. In 1809, the theatre burned to the ground, leaving him without any income and in 1812 he lost the election. In 1813 he was imprisoned for debt. He died in 1816 and is buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.