The Theater: Smarmy Aplomb

THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL by RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN

Behind its dramatic structure, the English comedy of manners presupposes a class structure. Endemic to it is a social vocabulary in which the urbanely bent knee, the suavely kissed hand, the smartly swirled cape and assorted dandyish flourishes come as second nature. In such comedies, style is substance, and the witty gesture counts for as much as the witty word.

When American actors tackle a play like The School for Scandal, they often get jittery and are tempted by the safety exit of farce or the urge to humanize characters that are basically stylized commentaries...

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