The School for Scandal, Folger Theatre

My blogging compadre was worried that we might have inadvertantly fallen into a Good Cop/Bad Cop dynamic, whereby she Talked Schmack about productions and I flailed happily about (sometimes) the very same show and burbled in merry capslock.


My happy capslock has been broken. I am left, instead, wandering through a field of despair fit for an indie film, shot in black and white and with a soundtrack consisting of a solitary note played over and over on an out of tune piano. As I wander, I wonder in perpetuity What went wrong in the Folger's production of The School for Scandal?, as a random and yet symbolically charged giraffe ambles over the horizon.

The cast assembled by director Richard Clifford is SUPREMELY talented. I know this. And having seen Clifford's last effort at the Folger, the AMAZING and WONDERFUL The Game of Love and Chance, I KNOW that he should be capable of producing a FANTASTIC School. The fact that he hasn't is almost heartbreaking, a world of potential dashed to pieces, and it galls to have to watch the assembled actors do their best to rise above a series of unfortunate directorial decisions.

The piece never GELLED for me, never came together and I couldn't begin to tell you why. I was in part distracted, I freely admit, by several aspects that just BOGGLED MY MIND.

For one, the casting of Tom Story as Lady Sneerwell. The only explanation I've yet heard offered is that, perhaps, Clifford was attempting something along the lines of the stunt casting of a man as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, in keeping with the fin de siècle era setting Clifford has chosen. OR SOMETHING. I don't mean to discredit Story's performance- indeed, I enjoyed him here much better than I had in an earlier comic turn in Major Barbara this season, and my poor, battered heart is still reeling from his STUNNING turn in last season's The Pillowman at Studio. He does an admirable job with the part from a difficult position- how DOES one choose to play a role written and intended for a woman as the only gender-swapped role in the production? Sadly, I left the evening just as befuddled as when I entered the theatre, having seen an ad for the play in a recent theatre program with Story's five o-clock be-shadowed face peering over a feminine... something or other. A fan? It hardly matters. But I took my seat expecting to have the curiosity engendered by the image met and answered and I left it in frustration. Having the opening scene played with Lady Sneerwell en déshabillé only confused the matter more. Was I seeing a man deliberately masquerading as woman to his peers, his true sex known only to a privileged few in the inner circle? Was I seeing an attempt to free the character from societal gender expectations, to show me how a naturally liberated Lady S willingly submits herself to the heavy encumbrances and limitations of the female role at the end of the nineteen century? Or did Clifford choose to cast a man as a clever joke to his audience, just saying, HA! Look it's a MAN! and he's supposed to be a woman! OH, THE CLEVERNESS OF ME! Is Lady Sneerwell meant to be a pantomime dame? If I was meant to come to a firmer conclusion, it escaped me.

There could have been a moment that redeemed the entire evening. It came so very close. As the dénouement looms (my word, there's a lot of French in this review), David Sabin's Sir Peter Teazle has faced two beloved souls untimely ripped from the pedestals upon which he held them. Sabin shows us a man utterly devastated and left with nothing. It's all there, right in his eyes and his posture and in the BLEEDING TEXT. And then.... it all becomes a joke, just as it has been for his callous friends. The scene is suddenly played for laughs and it's a GRIEVOUS ERROR. Sabin was ready and willing to give us pathos and I felt that he was being forced to give us laughter instead, and not in the heartwrending 'Vesti la guibba' way.

Also? We're not EVEN going to talk about the INCREDIBLY half-baked green carnations that appear in the final act, bedecking the lapels of a trio of minor characters. Just... NO.

It grieves my heart to do it, but I cannot recommend this production. There were those in the audience who laughed and enjoyed themselves and gave a cheer at the curtain call. Even in the midst of my disappointment, rockstars like Kate Eastwood Norris, Cody Nickell, and Hugh Nees were able to give us some wonderful moments, but sadly, in a benighted production, moments were all that could be mustered.

Pin your hopes on next season and give this one a miss.


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