Emily Bergl is Lydia Languish and Matt Letscher plays two of her suitors in the revival, which began previews Nov. 26. Lydia, a young heiress, is the fulcrum of the comedy's various intrigues. Obsessed with romantic novels, she renounces material values and falls for a poor soldier named Ensign Beverly (Letscher). The soldier is, however, in reality, Captain Jack Absolute, who has donned the disguise to win Lydia's heart.
Also vying for the fantasy-prone girl's hand is country bumpkin Bob Acres (Jeremy Shamos) and Sir Lucius O'Trigger (Brian Murray), who thinks the anonymous admiring letters he's getting come from Lydia, and not (as is the fact) from her domineering, language-mangling widow aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (Dana Ivey).
A side plot features Lydia's cousin Julia (Carrie Preston) and her on-again, off-again romance which the fitfully contrary Faulkland (Jim True-Frost). Very nearly blowing his top at every turn of events, meanwhile, is Jack's hot-headed father, Sir Anthony Absolute (Richard Easton).
Also in the cast are Keira Naughton, Herb Foster and James Urbaniak as various gossipy maids and valets.
The Rivals is suddenly popular among the nation's nonprofits. D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre produced it in summer 2003 and Boston's Huntington Theatre has scheduled it for January 2005. Penned in 1775, The Rivals was Richard Brinsley Sheridan's first play and is, next to School for Scandal, his most famous. The play contains some of the choicest roles in the classical repertory, including Captain Jack Absolute, Sir Lucius O'Trigger and Bob Acres, and one immortal character, Mrs. Malaprop, a woman who uses long words, but always to the wrong purpose. The name begat the word "Malapropism." The show was a flop when first presented to the public. Sheridan responded by feverishly revising the work over a 10-day period. A second opening was praised by critics and audiences alike. He would go on to write Scandal and The Critic before retiring into a career in politics.
The Rivals has not been performed on Broadway since 1942, when Eva LeGallienne directed it for the Theatre Guild. (Le Gallienne had acted in a 1923 Broadway version.) Prior to that, producer George C. Tyler gave the public Mrs. Fiske as Mrs. Malaprop.