Only skin-deep

Nevada Rep’s The School for Scandal is a pleasant but predictable bit of eye candy

Jeff Bellows (left), Sasha Mereu and Susan Lingelbach in Nevada Rep’s <i>The School for Scandal</i>.

Jeff Bellows (left), Sasha Mereu and Susan Lingelbach in Nevada Rep’s The School for Scandal.

Photo By Sarah Fiske

Rated 3.0

Until last weekend, I had never been to a play during which the audience actually applauded for the costumes and hair. But once you see Nevada Repertory Company’s The School for Scandal, directed by Sue Klemp, you’ll understand why. In re-creating the sumptuous, colorful world of 18th-century English high society, Nevada Rep stretches the limits of visual creativity to the point of being cartoonish, providing a feast for the eyes that almost makes up for the predictable storyline.When Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote The School for Scandal in 1777, London aristocrats were enjoying a Golden Age of Smack-Talk. Gossip sections were a prominent feature of newspapers, and Sheridan’s basic assumption in the play is that some people deliberately spread lies to destroy the reputations of others just for fun, regardless of whether the injured deserved it or not.

The leader of the scandalmongers is Lady Sneerwell (Michele Freeman), who is attempting to break up a burgeoning romance between young Maria (Tiffany Parkes) and Charles (Jeff Bellows). Charles’ brother Joseph (Brad Ka’ai’ai) is also hoping to win Maria—or more specifically, her fat bank account—so he joins Sneerwell in destroying his brother while protecting his own squeaky-clean reputation.

Meanwhile, Sir Peter Teazle (Sasha Mereu) is at his wit’s end trying to control the spending and gossiping of his young bride, Lady Teazle (Susan Lingelbach). What he doesn’t know—yet—is that Lady Teazle is having a platonic affair with Joseph simply because it’s fashionable. Due to forged love letters, Teazle begins to believe that Charles is the interloper.

Enter Sir Oliver Surface (Chadeos Clarno), the uncle of Charles and Joseph, who has just returned from many years abroad. He decides to approach both of the brothers in disguise to determine which has a better character and thus is deserving of his vast inheritance.

Gee, how do you think it’s going to end?

Moving on, then, to the technical elements. Nevada Rep has created a set that is amazing not only for its elaborate beauty and eye-popping color, but its surprising functionality. Scene changes are as smooth as silk, as stagehands roll out set pieces with cast members already perched on top of them. I especially liked a scene in Joseph’s library, where what appears to be a flat wall of painted-on books comes to life and novels start popping off the shelves.

But as good as the set design is, it’s nearly overshadowed by the costumes and hair. When Lady Teazle first appeared on stage, wearing the gaudiest rainbow-colored ball gown and sporting a roughly two-foot-high fuchsia wig, the entire audience erupted in giggling fits. These massive hairpieces, constructed out of the batting used in quilts or stuffed animals, were the highlights of the show for me.

All of the cast members played their parts quite well, although special mention goes to Kevin M. Sak, Jonathan McCaleb and Annie Scanlon for bringing to life the three funniest, most malicious gossipmongers on stage.

It’s not that The School for Scandal wasn’t amusing. But the dialogue inspired more tee-hees than guffaws, and a plot twist or two could have made the proceedings much more interesting.