What could be more fun than watching a bunch of fops, gossips, degenerates and cheats tattling and prattling in powdered wigs, slicing and dicing anyone and everyone in their horrid little circle? Well not much, as this devilishly delightful Actors’ Shakespeare Project production of “School For Scandal,” Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s still relevant 18th century satire on the scandalmongering among us, proves. Veteran actor/director/teacher Paula Plum directs a terrific cast (8 actors, 14 roles) in an elegant, two-storied space at the Cambridge Multi-Cultural Art Center.
In this Enlightenment comedy where reputation is all, it is the “Surface” twins Charles and Joseph who are at the heart of the machinations. Lady Sneerwell (Sarah Newhouse oozing venom as a narrow-eyed harpy) and her sidekicks “Snake” (here a hissy Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, later an ebullient Lady Teazle), the two-faced “Lady Candour” (Bobbie Steinbach so funny here and later as the moneylender Moses) and the seemingly honorable but secretly despicable Joseph (the perfectly handsome Michael Underhill) spread vicious rumors.
Sneerwell soon hatches a nasty plan with Joseph to break up Charles (Omar Robinson) and Maria (Rebecca Schneebaum) so Sneerwell can have Charles and Joseph can have Maria, innocent ward of Sir Peter Teazle (an excellent Gabriel Graetz) idiotic but sincerely loving husband of the frivolous but ultimately true blue Lady Teazle– whom Joseph is also trying to seduce.
Enter veteran actor Richard Snee first as the hilarious sneering twit Sir Benjamin Backbite, and later as the twins’ rich uncle Sir Oliver Surface who puts his nephews to the test. Chaos and some pretty nifty choreography ensue as characters cavort up and down staircases, dash in and out of doorways, and hide behind screens–soon giving way– in this roundelay of deception; eventually “Surfaces” become clear.
The intricate plot is further clarified by Steven Barkhimer’s fleet adaptation. Bookended between an opening verse telling us to turn off our cell phones, and a closing chorus of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” complete with harpsichord and multi part harmony, this “School for Scandal” strikes just the right note. Through May 8, Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge.