American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
Box Office: 608-588-2361
By Regina Belt-Daniels, Northwest Herald
In the 1770s, Dublin-born Richard Brinsley Sheridan was a newly married man, and his wife, Elizabeth Linley, according to the societal mores befitting a gentleman’s wife at the time, had given up her lucrative career and substantial income as a singer. In need of funds because their entertainment of gentry and nobility caused financial woes, Sheridan turned to playwriting.
“The Rivals,” Sheridan’s first play, opened in London’s Covent Garden in 1775. Although considered a masterpiece today, “The Rivals” was vilified for its length of five acts, bawdiness, and perception of an insult to Ireland with the characterization of Sir Lucius O’Trigger. (The actor was even hit with an apple lobbed by an unhappy audience member.) Wisely, Sheridan withdrew the play and rewrote it in 11 days. “The Rivals” then received much acclaim, becoming the favorite of the royal family and George Washington. In terms of adaptations, “The Rivals” was a popular musical in 1935, a 1958 TV episode of James Garner’s “Maverick,” and, most recently, a 2011 film starring James Corden, Imelda Staunton and Albert Finney.
And now “The Rivals” is a superb production running at American Players Theatre’s outdoor Hill Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The action is set in Bath, England, legendary locale for the wealthy fashionable who took to the warm healing spa waters (a cleverly manipulated and visually pleasing set designed by Shaun Motley). The plot centers on the romantic adventures of Lydia Languish, who is determined to marry for love, her head turned by romantic novels. Lydia will not marry anyone within her social circle of wealth, preferring an impoverished, common soldier.