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Review: Classical Theatre Company's THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Presents Classical Theatre in An Innovative, Groovy Way at The Deluxe Theater

Review: Classical Theatre Company's THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Presents Classical Theatre in An Innovative, Groovy Way at The Deluxe Theater

This zany, clever production only runs through January 28th, so buy your tickets now!

Review: Classical Theatre Company's THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Presents Classical Theatre in An Innovative, Groovy Way at The Deluxe Theater
Philip Lehl as Benjamin Backbite,
Lindsay Ehrhardt as Lady Sneerwell,
Danny Hayes as Mr. Crabtree,
and Ronnie Blaine as Mrs. Candour
Talking through the Town Gossip.
Photo credit: Pin Lim

You walk into to the theater, not knowing what to expect. 70s music is playing around you as you take a seat in one of the Deluxe Theater's soft chairs. After you are welcomed to the show by Lindsay Ehrhardt with the typical warnings (said in grand and sassy manner), the curtains open to expose the stage, which only contains a large frame and a wooden box behind it. Although the program shows that you are about to see THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL, a classical show written almost 300 years ago, you have no idea what to expect as actors come onstage in clothes that you could see on the streets of Houston today.

THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL is a 1777 Restoration Comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. In the story, Lady Sneerwell (a wealthy widow who enjoys spreading rumors) and Snake (a deceitful henchman Lady Sneerwell hires) create a plot to stop Charles Surface from being engaged to heiress Maria due to Lady Sneerwell's own attraction to Charles. Lady Sneerwell has Snake forge letters for her, place false stories in gossip columns, and conspire with Charles' older brother Joseph, who wishes to marry Maria for her money. The rest of the play shows the chain of events that occurs after this plan is set into action, resulting in a comedy of errors. Gossip is seen to spread faster than the truth, muddying all of the characters' views of each other.

Review: Classical Theatre Company's THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Presents Classical Theatre in An Innovative, Groovy Way at The Deluxe Theater
Ronnie Blaine as Mr. Snake
and Lindsay Ehrhardt as Lady Sneerwell
Discussing their Mischievous Plans.
Photo credit: Pin Lim

In a typical Restoration Comedy, you may expect to see large gowns, quill pens, dramatic make-up, and white wigs in play. Walking into the DeLuxe Theater, you may also know that the story itself brings us through many lavish locations and occasions. However, this production is very minimalist and modern. The production showcases a rather empty stage with only wooden boxes, closets, and frames being used as set pieces. In the background, there is a pile of various props, set pieces, and what looks to be discarded playthings, perhaps reflecting the chaos within the story. Each actor has one outfit throughout the entire play, and each costume piece is quite modern. We learn through the usage of classic 70s songs (which help drive the energy from scene to scene) and references to disco dancing that this version of Sheridan's story is set in the 1970s with flair.

Additionally, THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL originally has a cast of 16 characters, but this adaption only utilizes six. To cover all of the characters, every actor plays multiple roles. At first, I was a bit confused, and I found it initially difficult to keep track of the plethora of characters. However, once I was introduced to all of the characters, I was able to follow the plot and distinguish who was who in each scene. With only slight costume changes and varying acting choices, the same actors made different characters come to life, transcending both gender and age!

Review: Classical Theatre Company's THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Presents Classical Theatre in An Innovative, Groovy Way at The Deluxe Theater
Philip Lehl as Maria Sharing her Frustration
with John Johnston as Joseph Surface
and Lindsay Ehrhardt as Lady Sneerwell.
Photo credit: Pin Lim

One character is even represented with a Barbie; every actor puppeteers this role at some point within the show, making the Barbie a consistent gag. She is even thrown offstage at one point when she is called! At another point in the performance, a Ken doll is used to show the sneaky butler of Sir Teazle. The butler even does a Mission Impossible sequence to the corresponding iconic music, climbing up the furniture, flipping through the air, and exerting such effort to take care of the home that he works for.

Review: Classical Theatre Company's THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Presents Classical Theatre in An Innovative, Groovy Way at The Deluxe Theater
Philip Lehl as Sir Peter Teazle
and Elissa Cuellar as Lady Teazle
Discussing the State of their Marriage.
Photo credit: Pin Lim

It is thanks to the actors that all of these bits landed. Elissa Cuellar is hilarious and stellar as an argumentative young bride. Lindsay Ehrhardt is both a manipulative, ravishing widow and a convincing, Slavic servant. Danny Hayes is a comedic drunk brother, and John Johnston is a slimy, greedy older brother very convincingly. Ronnie Blaine plays the biggest gossip with flair, and he transitions into this character by putting his sweater off his shoulder and carrying a small dog that he acts out himself. The "dog" is incredibly funny, barking with attitude! Last (but certainly not least), Phillip Lehl has such a distinction between all of his characters, bringing a bumbling poet in some scenes and a tired, frustrated old man in others. At one point, Lehl plays two of his characters onstage at the same time, varying only his posture, inflection, and direction to clearly communicate when he was each character. Each of the actors that I have listed played three or four characters during the show, showcasing their versatility with ease. All in all, I really appreciated all of the actors' individual acting styles; no actor onstage was like another.

The direction of this play not only comes as a surprise due to its unique take of the play but also as a triumph since telling such a bigger-than-life story with only 6 actors and limited props is quite the feat! I would like to share my compliments to the director, Philip Lehl, for making this show possible. By the way, in addition to being the director of this show, he is an experienced CTC Company Artist and- as noted before- a cast member in this particular production. What a true Renaissance man!

Surprisingly enough, Classical Theatre Company (CTC) has never produced a Restoration Comedy show before; after watching this production, I believe that they should continue to explore this era of plays. This is certainly a special show that is not one to miss!

THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL only runs through January 28th, so buy your tickets now! Shows are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Mondays; 8:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays (with post-show talkbacks following the Sunday matinees). The production is taking place at The DeLuxe Theater (3303 Lyons Ave, Houston). Tickets range from $10 - $25. For more information, call 713-963-9665 or visit classicaltheatre.org.



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