Encore Michigan

The rumors are true about Pigeon Creek’s School for Scandal

Review June 12, 2016 Sue Merrell

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–Rumor has it that Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company has put together a playful, interactive production of The School for Scandal.  Believe it.

I realize The School for Scandal wasn’t even written by Shakespeare. It was written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan about 160 years after Shakespeare’s death, in the days of King George and white powdered wigs. It’s a play of manners–the absolute worst manners–romantic dalliances, plots to deceive and lots of delicious gossip. Even the names of the characters are fun: Lady Teazle and Lady Sneerwell. Sir Ben Backbite, Mrs. Candour and Mr. Snake.

Now, if you’ve heard that wide-eyed Bridget McCarthy steals the show, I can confirm that one. As is the Pigeon Creek tradition, the show opens with the costumed cast playing an appropriate contemporary song, in this case including an over-the-top McCarthy in a giant-wig wailing a roof-raising rendition of the 2011 pop-rock hit “Rumor Has It.” In the play, McCarthy not only portrays the gossip guru Mrs. Candour, but also tickles the audience as the slow-speaking money lender, Moses.

The farcical story revolves around two major plot lines. Lady Sneerwell (Anessa Johnson) is romantically interested in libertine Charles Surface (Chaz Albright), so she convinces his brother Joseph (Scott Lange) to romance the young ingénue Maria (Kat Hermes) who is smitten with Charles. It turns out Joseph is more interested in Lady Teazle (Sarah Stark) who is squabbling with her aging, wealthy hubby Peter (Scott Wright.) To further complicate matters Sir Oliver (Michael Dodge) has just returned from India and wants to assess whether his nephews, Charles and Joseph, are worthy of inheriting his wealth.

From the very beginning, the characters interact with the audience pointing out one or another as the example of some juicy bit of gossip, similar to the way the old Johnny Carson show used to spotlight members in the audience as characters in a soap opera. In the second act, when Charles auctions off portraits of his ancestors to raise money, an empty frame is used to spotlight various audience members as the relative on the auction block. This interaction works well in the intimate spaces Pigeon Creek uses in Spring Lake and Grand Rapids. About 40 people attended the opening production at Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake, with the room lighting on throughout the production.

In general, the acting is strong and those portraying double characters provide a clear contrast. Stark is vibrant and bubbly as Lady Teazle, every bit the tease her name implies, and Scott Wright makes a good foil as her doting but disappointed husband. Lange and Stark create some pretty interesting acrobatics as potential lovers interrupted by a servant. Albright manages believable fast talking when wheeling and dealing with disguised Uncle Oliver. Christa Wright fills in well as an impromptu auctioneer.

Although the simple, open set doesn’t have any doors, the Pigeon Creek Company manages to pull off a fine door-slamming farce scene with Lady Teazle hiding behind a screen, her hubby tucked into a “closet” opening in the backdrop curtain, the Surface brothers and incognito Uncle Oliver coming and going through various other door-like openings in the backdrop.

The script uses plenty of witty lines and double entendre, but the actors don’t always speak slowly enough to catch every word.

The 18th century costumes feature rich brocade fabrics and the wigs are well done.

The rumors are all true. “The School for Scandal” is an entertaining addition to the summer theater schedule.

Click here for show days, times and details.