Theater: Elegantly on the Harpsichord

The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, is a kind of dramatic harpsichord. It has surface vivacity rather than inner strength. It has elegance of style rather than profundity of substance. Thumped by realism's heavy hand, it would jangle and go mute; stroked with exquisite artifice, it enchants and amuses. The present import from Britain, top-starring Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson, is iridescently enchanting, contagiously amusing.

Gielgud is Joseph Surface, the hypocrite as moral snob, a kind of holier-than-thou heel. Richardson is Sir Peter Teazle, a crusty, crestfallen bridegroom in his 50s, loving, but not loved by, young...

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