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The Rivals: A Classic Play Tweaked

By • Jun 4th, 2006 • Category: Reviews

Listen to our review of Montgomery Playhouse’s production of The Rivals [MP3 5:18 1.5MB].

Laura: Last night we saw The Montgomery Playhouse production of The Rivals in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Mike: The Rivals was written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1775. It was updated a bit for today’s audience. Instead of taking place in England in 1775, it took place in Hawaii in the 1950’s. The basic story line revolves around several couples in Hawaii. They are romantically linked, but lying about who they are and trying to deceive each other. It’s a romantic comedy.

Laura: I liked the acting a lot. I thought everyone did a really good job. They did clean up some of the language, but I think they could have done some more. It doesn’t transfer well from 1775 to 2006.

Mike: Yeah, the part that didn’t carry well was the rhythm of the speaking of a lot of the scenes. During the early part of the show as I was listening, I hadn’t had time to look through the playbill yet. I said to myself, “This feels like Shakespeare.” At times the way they were speaking was very formal and at other times it wasn’t, so I didn’t know what was happening. Then at the intermission I read the Director’s notes. The director, Lisa Holland Anderson had moved the show to be 1950’s Hawaii and had updated the script to reflect that. The problem is the there is so much text in this script and the rhythm of the text that the actors were speaking was not contemporary. It wasn’t 1950’s. It still felt very Shakespearian. Even though he wasn’t Shakespeare, he was an influencer of Sheridan. So that made it a little hard to get into the show. The acting was top notch. I think all the actors did really well.

Laura: Lydia Languish was played by Heather Benjamin. She was the niece who was in love with who she first thought was just an Ensign. She was very taken with the idea of a scandal and elopement and running away to get married. Then when she found out he was actually a captain and the son of an admiral, then all of her hopes were dashed and she was so upset. I really enjoyed her performance. She worked well with the other actors. The kissing scene was very good.

Mike: Jack Absolute is the character that Lydia was in love with. She thought he was an ensign, but he was really a captain. He was played by Christopher E. Williams. He did a really good job. He was very believable in his frustration with both Lydia when she discovered the truth and with his father for trying to hook them up. Then later in the fight scene he did really well keeping all the balls juggling as he was dealing with different situations.

Paul Noga as Admiral Anthony Absolute, Jane Squier Bruns as Mrs. Malaprop, Heather Benjamin as Lydia Languish, and Christopher E. Williams as Captain Jack Absolute. Jack’s deception is revealed. Photo by Montgomery Playhouse

Laura: Captain Absolute’s father, the Admiral Absolute, was played by Paul Noga. He had a very commanding presence on stage. I liked him a lot. I liked his emotions. He got very angry when he thought his son and Mrs. Malaprop’s niece were not going to get married. He was upset with the whole situation and that carried through his voice, his emotions, and his presence on stage.

Mike: I really liked how even when he was walking off stage he stayed in the emotions that he was acting out, such as kicking his son in the pants. He did that even though only about half the audience could see him as he was walking off stage.That was really a nice touch.

Laura: I liked the set in tonight’s performance. The scene changes went very smoothly. There wasn’t a lot to bring on and off. I thought it was very well done. There was a beach scene and then two houses on either side of the stage for different activities to go on. I thought that was very well done. The set changes were very smooth.

Mike: One thing that I did not like about the edits that were done to The Rivals was the scene early on where several of the characters were talking about the book that Lydia was reading. Admiral Absolute and Mrs. Malaprop were promoting the fact that she knew how to read and she was getting books from the library. They both said that was horrible, women shouldn’t need to know how to read and there shouldn’t be libraries. They were a blight on society. That just didn’t sit well with the 1950’s. It was a very common thought in the 1770’s, but in the 1950’s that section probably should have been edited to instead of focusing on reading in general in a library, it should have been focused on the books that Lydia was reading. The Kinsey Report and a couple other books. Probably the Harlequin Romance type books. They should have been the focus of the conversation, not the reading in general. That didn’t sit well, but pretty much the other changes that were done during the show were pretty good.

Laura: One thing I liked was that during the scene changes they had music from the 50’s playing in the background. I thought that was a nice touch. That made it flow much better.

Mike: The Rivals is playing at The Montgomery Playhouse at Asbury through June 11. If you’ve seen the show, feel free to make comments here at

Laura: And now, on with the show.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

One Response »

  1. We forgot to mention the show was funny, with the second act being more enjoyable as the ground work has been laid and the situations are starting to reconcile themselves. Don’t let Mrs. Malaprop’s vocabulary get you too discombobulated. We both found ourselves trying to figure out the word that she meant to say, sometimes it was very obvious, and other times we couldn’t quite put our finger on what she was trying to say.