Let's congratulate the Actors' Gang for at least bringing some novelty to our classical repertory. When American theater companies feel an itch to revive a work by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, they inevitably reach for "The School for Scandal," which has come to epitomize that post-Restoration genre known as 18th century comedy.
"The Rivals," Sheridan's first play, is a more unwieldy affair, but there are hearty laughs to be had from this scattershot spray of silliness from 1775. To enjoy them, however, one most be willing to plod through dizzying stretches of ludicrous plot.
The tale, set in the posh resort town of Bath, where the well born swan about in all their pretentious finery while firing off ornate zingers, is a romantic labyrinth that isn't always easy for contemporary ensembles to navigate. A recap of the story, centering on the competition for the hand of a marriageable beauty determined to marry a pauper, would be almost as vertiginous as the experience of the work onstage.
Perhaps extreme measures are called for, but the heavily stylized approach that David Schweizer takes in his production at the Ivy Substation has its drawbacks. The artifice is caked on so thick that it is hard to remember that this comedy of manner is also in part a comedy of character. Enacted by foppish clowns, the matrimonial intrigue can't help being a slog. The supporting players must carry the day.