When Sheridan hits the Walnut in March, he'll be wearing an English Derby But doing the Charleston.
To translate: Richard Brinsley Sheridan's classic comedy, The Rivals, will open at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre March 4. A co-production between the Walnut and the UK's Derby Playhouse, this 1770s work has been updated to the Roaring 1920s by director Mark Clements, artistic director of the Derby.
As with many Restoration comedies, Sheridan's character names give hints to their personalities, such as the heiress, Lydia Languish, and nobleman Jack Absolute. The Rivals is best known for Lydia's Aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, whose "command" of the English language led to a new, eponymously fashioned word in the English dictionary.
Both American and British artists are appearing in the production, which stars Millicent Martin as Mrs. Malaprop. Martin has appeared in Shirley Valentine, Absurd Person Singular, Side By Side By Sondheim and Tonight At 8:30.
Co-star Grace Gonglewski (Lydia) is a familiar presence at the Walnut, having appeared there in Shooting Simone, Major Barbara, The Real Thing and The Taming Of The Shrew. The remaining players include Britishers Ian Shaw (Absolute), Timothy Watson, Paul Rider, Tyler Butterworth and Colin Mayes; and Americans Melissa Chalsma, Melanye Finster, Allyn Burrows, Matthew Conti and Kress Weisbord. British designer Robert Jones has created the set and costumes; F. Mitchell Dana has designed the lighting.
Asked about the work's adaptation, Walnut spokesperson Maria E. Sticco told Playbill On-Line that the location has remained the same, and that the 1920s updating was done -- in the words of director Clements -- to give the play a "more accessible angle, a wonderful little zest." "The text hasn't been changed much," said Sticco, "it translates very well from then to now. But Clements did make little changes. For example, the ingenue, Lydia Languish, sits around reading romance novels. We've changed the author to D.H. Lawrence, who would have been known as a writer of that type in that time -- as opposed to the person in Sheridan's play, whom nobody would have heard of."
Irish playwright Sheridan's other works include The Critic (1779) and The School For Scandal (1777).
The Rivals played at the Derby Playhouse, about 110 miles outside London, Jan. 31-Feb. 22. For tickets ($8-$38) to the Walnut Street production, call (215) 574-3550 x.4.
--By David Lefkowitz