The Rivals | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Rivals 

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THE RIVALS, City Lit Theater Company. This play isn't as witty as Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal, but it does deliver cunning insights on the perverse power of love to inspire the lies that tell the truth. In this 1775 romp, here revived by a company with a Midas touch for 18th-century comedy, romance fan Lydia Languish (a delightfully dithering Heidi Gottcent) dreams of assignations and elopements. To her disgust, her wealthy suitor Jack Absolute (a sly Brendan Farley) offers respectability as well as passion, so he disguises himself as the impoverished "Ensign Beverly." By contrast Jack's pal Falkland (a hilariously anguished Joseph Wycoff) is wrongfully insecure and tests his adoring Julia (the enticing Melanie Esplin) with neurotic doubts and jealousy. Both men must learn to trust the truth.

Page Hearn guides a superb cast in complete control of the comedy, both compassionately depicting and gently mocking love's delusions. As Lydia's dragonlike guardian Mrs. Malaprop, Martha Adrienne mangles her lines marvelously. Since it all clicks, it seems unnecessary to update the action to 1912, though Thomas K. Kieffer's Edwardian costumes are gorgeous. But the Keystone Kops pantomimes that separate the scenes are confusing and beside the point.

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