PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Rivals: Hustling and Bustling

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17 Dec 2004

Dana Ivey; Richard Easton; Brian Murray; Mark Lamos; Marian Seldes; Matt Lescher; Emily Bergl; Carrie Preston; James & Keira Naughton; Michael Emerson; Jim & Beth Stanek; Ethan McSweeney; Andre Bishop & Bernard Gersten; Chip Zien and Daniel Sullivan
Dana Ivey; Richard Easton; Brian Murray; Mark Lamos; Marian Seldes; Matt Lescher; Emily Bergl; Carrie Preston; James & Keira Naughton; Michael Emerson; Jim & Beth Stanek; Ethan McSweeney; Andre Bishop & Bernard Gersten; Chip Zien and Daniel Sullivan
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

There may be sillier sights than Dana Ivey in full dither, scooting across stage in an 18th-century bustle, littering Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont with malformed verbiage, but one didn't seem to come to mind Dec. 16 when a revival of The Rivals bowed there.

Yes, Mrs. Malaprop rides again, blithely mangling the language as she goes, and it was obvious to all who know the work of this yeoman actress that she was at high tide, eloquently misspeaking every aria Richard Brinsley Sheridan gave his archetype airhead.

"Dana was born to play this role!" trilled playwright Alfred Uhry at intermission—and he knows her well, having given a ride to the big time with his Pulitzer Prize-winning Driving Miss Daisy. "I don't think there's any limit to what she can do if given a chance."

Clearly, this was one of those chances, and Ivey stepped out of the character ranks and into the star spot with seamless ease. "I had a ball!" she declared when she made her star entrance after the show at the reception held on the orchestra level of Avery Fisher Hall.

"I have a wonderful time playing her. I could do it forever. In 1998 I played her at Williamstown, but we only had two weeks of rehearsal and it was very different—but great fun and a wonderful production. I love her grandiosity and her love of language, whether she gets it right or not. I love that. I love that she thinks she is getting it right.

"I studied in England, and I've done a lot of period work in Canada, but I haven't had the opportunity to do anything in this period since I've been in New York, so it's a thrill."

She said Jess Goldstein had a lot to do with her characterization, too. "He is a master, and, goodness knows, he has made the most beautiful costumes for this. Just gorgeous."

Goldstein didn't attend the reception, knee-deep as he was in his next project: the Beach Boys musical, Good Vibrations. From Bath, England, in 1775 to the California beach of the 1960s—a fellow could get the bends that way, but it certainly keeps him untyped!

Seconding the handsomeness of this production was the set of John Lee Beatty—a town-square centerpiece, which, with revolving-wheel furniture and chandeliers that go up and down, keeps the farce flowing smoothly. "Yeah, I had a stack of books on Bath, and I'd been there a few times as a child and as an adult so it wasn't hard work," Beatty admits. "In fact, it was a lot of fun to research because you really want to research it for the rest of your life." But, alas, he can't. He and the show's lighting designer, Peter Kaczorowski, are now focusing on the East Coast college scene for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which reaches Broadway in March, about the time Beatty's Doubt does.

Character actors had a good night, too. Richard Easton and Brian Murray, both pet vets of Lincoln Center, huffed and puffed and blustered about the Beaumont, as the fops flanking Mrs. Malaprop—Sir Anthony Absolute and Sir Lucius O'Trigger, respectively.

Easton, a Tony winner for Tom Stoppard's (and LCT's) The Invention of Love, was happy with his role. "I love him because I think he's Sheridan. Some people think that the author was Bob Acres [a pretentious hayseed with social aspirations, played by Jeremy Shamos], but I think not. I think that he was Sir Anthony because he's a wild creature."

Murray, whose character brings ancient ardor to the young-love matching in the center ring, is also pleased with his part. "I liked him because he's Irish—besides, Anthony was gone—so I'm happy to be in this fine company and work with [director] Mark Lamos."

He even knows where his next classic is coming from. "I'm doing Prospero in Pittsburgh. I go down a week after we close here to do The Tempest. That'll be in February."

Seated with Murray at the party is his frequent stage wife, Marian Seldes (The Play About the Baby, The Butterfly Collection). She has a play to post as well and will "as soon as they get a theatre." It's a new play and a contemporary playwright, she hints.

While the seasoned pros stole scenes from the sidelines, a buoyantly young cast handled the revelry and rivalry at the heart of the play. Sheridan supplied a double load of young lovers—Sir Anthony's son, Captain Jack Absolute (Matt Letscher) pursues Mrs. Malaprop's niece, Lydia Languish (Emily Bergl), while their actions are echoed by their best friends, Julia Melville (Carrie Preston) and Faulkland (Jim True Frost).

Complicating matters a bit more: Lydia has a feisty maid, played by Keira Naughton, whose dad (James Naughton) dropped by to help her celebrate her opening as soon as he finished his regular night job (playing Willy Brandt in Michael Frayn's Democracy).

Bergl is particularly pleased to be in this company. "Usually," she says, "I'm the outsider, a character with more edge. I never get to play the pretty, slightly ditzy girl, so it's wonderful that I get to try my hand at this. I like the show because it's about people who, by flaws of character, get in their own way—something we can all relate to. Sheridan had such an amazing fondness for these characters, and love, and I think that comes across."

Preston thinks she picked the best part, too. "When I first read it, I wasn't sure," she admits, "but the minute I started speaking it, I thought, `Oh, this is the part that's good.'

"It's such a great company. I've know a lot of them socially, but I've never worked with any of them. And I'd never worked with Mark Lamos. When I went in to audition for him, I said, 'We've been destined to work together for so long.' Thankfully, he agreed."


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