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Too Often, Acting Styles Are 'Rivals' in Period Comedy

November 03, 2000|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

First presented in 1775, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's "The Rivals" is arguably one of the riskiest endeavors a theater company--particularly a non-English company--can undertake. The current production of the play by the Interact Theatre Company is a case in point.

Not that Sheridan's arch lampoon of 18th century sentimentality isn't still a mordantly funny romp, with the kind of cheeky caricatures actors would give their eyeteeth to play. However, it is vital to the success of any production that the director impose a uniform refinement of acting style upon his cast. In the Interact production--the company's first outing in its handsome new NoHo space--director John Rubinstein is only partially successful in that attempt.

Although Rubinstein's staging is ambitious, and Peter A. Lovello's period costumes gorgeous, the cast ranges from the superb to the so-so. Some of the actors are classically elegant, skewering their dialogue with rapier deftness. A few are merely sitcom glib, with a flat, prosaic quality more appropriate to the small screen than to Sheridan's witty epic. One or two are less than competent, flubbing lines freely throughout.

One of the sharpest blades is Alan Brooks, who strikes just the right balance between the imperious and the abject as the changeable lover Faulkland, a case study in involuntary pettishness and twisted judgment. Also acute is hilarious Michael Manuel as Acres, the bumbling country squire who blunders out of his depths in Bath, the elite watering hole where he hopes to snare a pretty wife.

Christina Carlisi is cameo-perfect as Julia, Faulkland's put-upon fiancee (although, with our post-Freudian sensibilities, her reconciliation with her estranged abuser seems more tragic than romantic). And, although his accent tends to flounder from the British countryside to the New York East Side, Steven Gilborn intimidates with panache as Sir Anthony Absolute, an adamantine patriarch of the old school.

*

"The Rivals," 5215 Bakman Ave., North Hollywood. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 3. $20. (818) 773-7862. Running time: 3 hours, 20 minutes.

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