Spotlight: The Rivals

Michal Daniel

There's the wayback machine and then there's the way, way, wayback machine. Here the Jungle stages Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1775 British farce in full period costume, and you can just about smell the chamber pots. The intricate and deeply ridiculous plot concerns young Captain Absolute (Robin Everson), who has wooed the winsome Lydia Languish (Amber Nicolette Swenson) under a false name and by pretending to be a scruffy commoner. It's worked swimmingly, though when his father, Sir Anthony (Allen Hamilton), and Lydia's aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (Claudia Wilkens), arrange a marriage between the two youngsters, the young Captain has some unserious splainin' to do. There's more ham to be found here than on an Iowa feedlot, with Everson mugging throughout and Hamilton showcasing a gruff daftness and a malicious twinkle. Wilkens also goes for maximum ridiculousness, with her overprecise diction and booming voice broadcasting her character's enthusiastic mangling of the English language. The show comes in quite long at nearly three hours, and there's nothing on display to elicit even the slightest furrowing of the audience's collective brow. But the oddball gusto of the thing makes the time slide by. Couples break up and reconcile, including Julia (Andrea Leap) and Falkland (Ryan Kathman), a suitor whose doubts about his sweetheart's constancy lead to a funny running gag. If this brew weren't frothy enough, Steven Rydberg and director/designer/lyricist John Clark Donahue have pitched in a few music numbers. This is supposed to be the Jungle's holiday offering—a few pine trees make up part of the set, and snow falls on the conclusion of the action—but the proceedings represent a fairly idiosyncratic take on the Yuletide experience. While I'll confess to being a bit baffled at times by why I was viewing this strange nugget from the past, the cohesion of the production provides a shaggy logic all its own.

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