Bradley University Theatre Presents The Rivals

April 24, 2014

The Rivals, one of the most enduring and popular comedies of the English stage, opens Thursday, April 24, to cap Bradley Theatre’s 2013-2014 season in the Meyer Jacobs Theatre. Directed by Associate Professor Steve Snyder, the production will mark his departure from Bradley after nine seasons as the principal instructor in performance. In the fall of this year, Mr. Snyder will begin his new position as Shakespeare Specialist and Professor of Performance at Pennsylvania State University.

The Play

Regarded by many as the hallmark comedy of manners, this perennial favorite by 18th-century playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, has galvanized actors and regaled audiences since its Covent Garden premiere in 1775. Now, as then, its dazzling flights of language, withering wit, and amorous intrigues fuel some of the most memorable characters ever to speak the English tongue: Lydia Languish, Jack Absolute, the neurasthenic Lord Faulkland, and the unforgettable Mrs. Malaprop, whose very name entered the lexicon as a synonym for hilarious verbal misuse: the malapropism.  The play, along with Sheridan’s other works and those of his contemporary, Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer), satirizes the foibles of the British upper class and stands as a literary and theatrical bridge between the Restoration comedies of Congreve and Wycherly, and social comedies of later writers like Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham.


Modeled on Roman comedies (and, indeed, set in the fashionable British resort town of Bath, an ancient center of Roman Britain), The Rivals opens as Lydia Languish wants to elope rather than marry anyone with her "friends' consent." To humor her, Captain Jack Absolute has disguised himself as penniless Ensign Beverley. Unbeknownst to Lydia, her aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, is negotiating with Sir Anthony Absolute about an alliance of Lydia with his son Jack Absolute. Complicating the picture are two other rivals for Lydia's affections: the foppish country booby Bob Acres and the pugnacious fortune-hunting Sir Lucius O'Trigger. Neither of these rivals ever crosses Lydia's mind, and Sir Lucius's pretensions are particularly absurd since Mrs. Malaprop herself is attracted to him. Both Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Lucius are betrayed by the scheming maidservant Lucy in an epistolary ruse by which the aunt thinks she is carrying on with Sir Lucius and Sir Lucius thinks he is carrying on with Lydia. In a subplot, the emotionally insecure Faulkland tests the affections of his orphaned fiancée, Julia Melville (Sir Anthony's niece and Lydia's best friend). The difficulties are hilariously resolved just in time to prevent all the rivals from dueling and to ensure a happy assortment of marriages.

Critics have attributed the comedy's greatness to its exuberant play with language and with language's power to obfuscate reality, but this language emanates from, as well as serves to form, distinctly drawn, wonderfully absurd characters. (From the Dictionary of Literary Biography)


Richard Brinsley Sheridan was an eminent Irish-born playwright, orator and member of Parliament. He studied law, and as a young man he fought two duels with a man who had defamed Sheridan’s fiancée, and in which Sheridan was seriously injured.  After his recovery he turned to the theatre for quick income and in 1775, the Covent Garden Theatre produced his comedy, The Rivals. After a poor reception it was withdrawn. A revised version appeared soon after and it eventually become one of Britain's most popular comedies. Two other plays by Sheridan, St Patrick's Day and The Duenna, were also successfully produced at the Covent Garden Theatre. In 1776 Sheridan joined with his father-in-law to purchase the Drury Lane Theatre for £35,000. The following year he produced his most popular comedy, The School for Scandal.

Under the influence of his mentor, the Radical Whig Charles Fox, Sheridan abandoned his writing in favor of a political career. On 12th September, 1780, Sheridan became MP for Stafford. Sheridan was a frequent speaker in the House of Commons and soon obtained a reputation as one of the best orators in Britain. Sheridan was a strong supporter of the American revolution, and the U.S. Congress was so grateful that it once  offered him a reward of £20,000. Under attack for disloyalty to his country, Sheridan decided not to accept the gift.

Sheridan subsequently served in the British foreign office, defended the French Revolution, supported a free press, and opposed the Act of Union with Ireland. He lost office as the Tories regained power and, although in and out of office intermittently thereafter, financial and medical problems hounded him, and he was arrested for debt in 1813. Friends paid his obligations, and Sheridan died in poverty in 1816.

THE RIVALS will run Thursdays through Saturdays, April 24-26 and May 1-3, at 8 PM, with Sunday matinees April 27 and May 4 at 2:30 PM. Tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for students, and $12  for Bradley faculty and staff/students/seniors. For tickets call 309-677-2650.