Riverside Theatre's The School for Scandal is set to stir laughter and thought

BY LU SHEN | JUNE 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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It should be a summer full of tears and laughter in the West High Auditorium.

Following the opening of Hamlet last week, the Riverside Theater in the Park will open its second and final show of the season at 8 p.m. Friday at West High, 2901 Melrose Ave. The season has been pushed indoors because of flooding.

The group will present Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy The School for Scandal, an 18th-century English satire that makes fun of the eccentric aristocratic class and its ridiculous lifestyle and gossiping culture. 

Although the play was first performed in 1777, stage director Theodore Swetz said modern audiences are no strangers to its themes.

"All you gotta do is to go to any supermarket, and when you're checking out, see all the National Enquirer and all that stuff," Swetz said. "They had those types of papers back in Sheridan's day. And [The School for Scandal] is Sheridan's real response to those terrible newspapers. He makes fun of the scandalmongers, but he also generates how powerful they are."

Swetz said the "universal truths" presented by the play makes it a classic case of a comedy of manners.

"It is historically funny," said Swetz, who is also the head of Theater Arts, Acting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "And you have a lot of wonderfully ugly people in them, but the winner at the end will be the person with the biggest heart."

Christopher Peltier, who plays Charles Surface in The School for Scandal and Hamlet in Hamlet, said it is a "real treat" to be a part of The School for Scandal.

"So often these old British plays are gotten into really stuffy and really boring when not done well," he said. "And what I love about this play is that the executions have been so delicate. I think there's a life in it."

Peltier's interest in theater started early — he first played at a professional theater when in fifth grade, and his passion has never faded away.

"There's a reason these classical plays being around for 300 and 400 years — they're so interesting and people in them are so complex and so deep, and the themes are so universal," Peltier said.

"Getting the chance to do these plays is a true privilege."

He said the costumes are another highlight of doing the show.

"It's the nicest thing that I have ever worn in a way," he said. "It's really gorgeous, just visually stunning."

Lauren Roark, the costume designer for the play, spent three weeks in Hong Kong, having six men's suits and vests manufactured there and purchasing materials for other clothes in Shenzhen, China. She was excited about the adventure for the costumes.

"It was an incredible time," said Roark, who said she was in love with Dim Dum while in Hong Kong. "We're learning so much about how different shops function, about the things that you can get there that you cannot get here."

Of all the costumes, Roark's favorite is an orange silk vest with traditional Chinese prints on it, for which all the materials were bought at a fabric market in Shenzhen. She thinks the traditional Chinese material serves the British play very well.

"This period is all about flamboyant, eccentric, over-the-top fashion and style," Roark said. "Trading was going on, and there was Orientalism. These are people who clearly have been all over the world and have all the money in the world, so of course they're going to spend it on clothes."

Roark, a third-year graduate student in costume design and technology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said she had fun manipulating different fabrics, trims, and colors to show the intricacy of the artistic work. Her main goal was to split the two types of people — the scandalmongers and creatures and the good-hearted people.

Inspired by Sheridan's work, Swetz said he is excited to tell a story that is both ridiculous and comedic and also has the ability to touch the audience's heart with a lesson on true moral values.

"It's a tough world to live in right now, and we are living a more isolated stressful life," said Swetz, a New York City native. "What I like about [the play] is that you get a group of people at the theater from 10 years old to 90 years old, and we're all going to laugh at the same thing. It's a sense of community, and Sheridan is a great playwright to tell us stories in that regard."

What: Riverside Theatre in the Park's The School for Scandal
When: Friday-June 23, 27, 29; July 2, 5, 7
Where: West High Auditorium, 2901 Melrose Ave.
Admission: $18 to $40

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