“The Rivals” Is a Complicated, Witty, and Thoroughly Enjoyable 18th Century Comedy of Manners at RLT

Jonathan King (left), Morrisa Nagel (center), and Sarah Beth Short star as Capt. Jack Absolute, Mrs. Malaprop, and Lydia Languish in <em>The Rivals</em> (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)
Jonathan King (left), Morrisa Nagel (center), and Sarah Beth Short star as Capt. Jack Absolute, Mrs. Malaprop, and Lydia Languish in The Rivals (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Actors Comedy Lab and Raleigh Little Theatre’s joint production of The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a witty and thoroughly enjoyable 18th century “Comedy of Manners,” which was said to have been George Washington’s favorite play. Director and Actors Comedy Lab co-founder Rod Rich, displays considerable talent in his staging of this show.

Rich receives able assistance from scenic designer Thomas Mauney, who has created the efficient and pleasurable three-quarter round performance area. Scene changes are made simple and unobtrusive, changing from a street scene, to Mrs. Malaprop’s dressing room, and several other rooms, areas, and the King’s-Mead Fields, the scene of a heart-stopping duel.

One of the delightful 21st century influences to be found in this show is the clever use of lights and a swoop-sound to enhance the asides; the overall lighting and sound is also excellently designed and executed. Kudos to Liz Grimes Drossler and John Maruca, who also had the covers of the bodice-ripping romance novels that Lydia reads flashed up on the corner screens.

A rich array of uppercrust costumes garbs the actors, gay (in the old-fashioned sense) and bright and slightly anachronistic, highlighting some of the modern-day conveniences that are risible as well, all the product of the clever mind and hands of Jenny Mitchell.

The story line is almost Shakespearian, with mixed identities, match-making, jealousy and hate, devious servants, love and, of course, a happy ending. Characters come and go, action slips from here to there, and one of the most universally known figures, who lends her name to her loquacious misuse of words with similar sounds but paradoxical meanings, Mrs. Malaprop, is played with gusto by Morrisa Nagel.


The cast of <em>The Rivals</em> includes (from left) Gus Allen as Faulkland, Sarah Beth Short as Lydia, and Jonathan King as Jack (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)</em>
The cast of The Rivals includes (from left) Gus Allen as Faulkland, Sarah Beth Short as Lydia, and Jonathan King as Jack (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Lydia, Mrs. Malaprop’s niece, is a simply charming, determined, and polite young lady in the capable hands of Sarah Beth Short, until she is crossed; and then her eruptions are marvelous to behold.

Her love interest is played by Jonathan King, who presents a debonair, striking figure as Capt. Jack Absolute and carries this role and another with ease.

Acres, a rival suitor for Lydia and one of the deeper, more complex roles, is portrayed by Robert Kaufman with a nicely layered performance, showing us the character’s fears and bravados, and making him utterly lovable.

Tony Hefner turns in a solid pair of performances as Thomas, carefully fumbling with the 20th century suitcases and taking the obvious funny solution, and as Sir Lucius O’Trigger, the aggressive Irish suitor of Lydia.

The entire cast do fine jobs, rounding out a enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 4th Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Kurt Benrud: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/10/the-rivals-is-delightfully-absurd-entertainment/.

Actors Comedy Lab and Raleigh Little Theatre present THE RIVALS at 8 p.m. Oct. 8 and 9, 3 and 8 p.m. Oct. 10, 3 p.m. Oct. 11, 8 p.m. Oct. 15 and 16, 3 and 8 p.m. Oct. 17, and 3 p.m. Oct. 18 in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $22 ($18 students and seniors), except all seats $13 on Sunday, Oct. 4th.

BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.

GROUP RATES: 919-821-3111.

SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/rivals.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/425679280950410/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfSZflcontM&feature=player_embedded.

RLT NEWS RELEASE: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/press/rivalsfiles/Press_release.docx.

2015-16 RLT SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/index.html.


Actors Comedy Lab: http://www.actorscomedylab.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Actors-Comedy-Lab/201926916520429.

Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.

VENUE: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets/seating.html.

MAPS/DIRECTIONS: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/map-directions.html.

PARKING: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/parking.html.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11th, performance.


The Rivals (1775 English comedy of manners): http://www.theatrehistory.com/irish/rivals.html (TheatreHistory.com) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rivals (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://www.ocr.org.uk/images/71517-unit-f663-the-rivals-1775-richard-brinsley-sheridan-introduction-and-guided-reading.pdf (Oxford Cambridge and RSA).

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Irish dramatist and poet, 1751-1816): http://www.theatrehistory.com/irish/sheridan001.html (TheatreHistory.com), http://www.britannica.com/biography/Richard-Brinsley-Butler-Sheridan (Encyclopædia Britannica), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Brinsley_Sheridan (Wikipedia).

Rod Rich (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/rod.rich.33 (Facebook page).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).