I’ve long been a fan of Oscar Wilde (as is evident with the title of this blog) and as such believe that The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the theatre world’s great masterpieces. But 100 years before this absurdist fare hit the stages, there was another of equal brilliance. I speak of course of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals. Shamefully, I knew very little of Sheridan before seeing the show and interviewing actor John Emmet Tracy, but after viewing the performance, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between it and Wilde’s magnum opus.
First, the plot is strikingly similar – multiple couples, including one man pretending to be someone else while wooing the same girl as both personalities; a dominating mother figure who over exaggerates everything; and one giant, hilarious climax. Yet, at the same time the play is still its own. Every male is challenging some other dude to a duel, love is won, lost, and won again, and the plot hinges on one very sly, very moustachioed man from Texas, who every time he rode in on his metaphorical horse seemed identical to Kenneth Branagh’s character from Wild Wild West.
The particular production I saw was put on by the great Vancouver Theatre Company Blackbird Theatre and directed by Johnna Wright. The cast was stellar including the award-winning aforementioned Tracy, Duncan Fraser, Emma Slipp and renowned Canadian Icon – winner of two Leos as well as five-time Genie and four time Gemini nominee – Gabrielle as the over-the-top Mrs. Malaprop.
I tend to judge theatre – and many other artistic endeavours – by the way the audience reacts. Not only was I laughing out loud (which I tend not to do very often), but I heard several hearty chortles coming at me from all sides. Also, my co-workerJJ who accompanied me and who had not been to live theatre in quite a while informed me that she thoroughly enjoyed it; especially seeing (and hearing) Rose as Mrs. Malaprop.
What makes the show even more impressive was that it ran for almost two and a half hours, making for quite an intense evening for both actors and audience. Although the time flew by – partly due to the fact it was a comedy and partly because it was so good – one still had to be prepared for what they were getting into. If I had to sum it up in a one-line review: “A genuine, absurdist romp”