Lydia Languish, a young heiress obsessed with romantic novels, is infatuated with a poor soldier named Ensign Beverley. Unbeknownst to her, Beverley is really Captain Jack Absolute who, in order to court her, has assumed this identity to indulge Lydia's illusions about romantic love. Lydia's aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, shocked at Lydia's involvement with a common soldier, has arranged with Sir Anthony Absolute, Jack's father, for Lydia to marry Jack. Unfortunately, when Jack reveals his true identity, Lydia defiantly clings to her romantic notions and refuses to accept him. Simultaneously, a close friend of Jack's named Faulkland has fallen in love with Sir Anthony's ward, Julia. Julia is constant in her love, but Faulkland is driven by irrational doubts to submit her love to a ridiculous test. When this test destroys Julia's faith in him, she breaks off their engagement. In the meantime, Lydia's rejected suitors, Bob Acres and Lucius O'Trigger, each threaten to fight duels on her behalf: Acres with his non-existent rival Beverley, and O'Trigger with Jack. Ironically, the young Captain finds himself facing the prospect of dying for a lady who has rejected him. Everything comes to a head on the duelling field. There, Lydia, alarmed by the prospect of Jack's death, halts the fight and admits her love for him. Julia, ever patient and loyal, forgives Faulkland his "ill-directed imagination."
The Rivals, as presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, is an adaptation of Sheridan's play written by director Joel G. Fink. Rather than adhering to the eighteenth century period of the original play, Dr. Fink has chosen to set the action in 1892 Colorado. This approach was undertaken by Dr. Fink as part of the centennial celebration of the founding of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The result is a wonderful marriage of Sheridan's original plot, characters and theme with some typical characters from the old American West.
The Rivals is a play about the mischievous, unexpected, dangerous and all-compelling power of love. The two plots which form the foundational structure of the play mirror each other and thereby amplify this thematic idea. In general terms, each plot has the following structure: a lover fabricates a false ideal of the nature of love (in one plot it is Lydia, in the other, Faulkland). This false ideal grows like a cancer until it threatens to destroy the love relationship by means of a betrayal of trust in one case (Faulkland) and the actual threat of death in the other (Lydia). At this critical point, however, each deluded lover suddenly realizes how this false ideal has endangered the genuine love of his or her beloved, and the consequent shock and fear initiates a new self-awareness. This self-awareness leads to a new insight into the true nature of love and thence to confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation between the lovers. The point of the action of both plots is that true love rests on a foundation of genuine respect between the sexes, and on the healing power of honest communication between lovers. The dominant plot of the play deals with Jack and Lydia. Lydia is a young woman infatuated with the ideal of love she finds illustrated in the popular romantic novels of the day. Her romantic delusions about love are comically summarized in a speech in which she recalls the fictitious Beverley's courtship of her: How often have I stole forth, in the coldest night in January, and found him in the garden, stuck like a dripping statue!-There would he kneel to me in the snow, and sneeze and cough so pathetically! He shivering with cold, and I with apprehension! And while the freezing blast numb'd our joints, how warmly would he press me to pity his flame, and glow with mutual ardour!-Ah, Julia! that was something like being in love. (V,i) The comedy is edged with irony, however, since Lydia, in describing the ardour of the imaginary Beverley, is completely blind to the fact that all these overtures of love were enacted by the very real Jack whom she has frivolously rejected. It is only when she faces the possibility of Jack's death in a duel on her behalf that Lydia is shocked into the world of reality. At this point, she finally discards her romantic illusions and acts to save Jack's life by stopping the fight. This leads to the couple's reconciliation and to a forecast of future happiness. The play's secondary plot focuses on Faulkland and Julia. This plot mirrors the Jack/Lydia plot in that, as in a reflection, the image is reversed: the deluded lover is not the woman but the man. Like Lydia, Faulkland is plagued by an irrational ideal of love which takes the form of an overzealous concern about Julia, the object of his desire. When Jack asks what grounds of apprehension he can possibly have about Julia's love for him, Faulkland says: What grounds for apprehension did you say? Heavens! are there not a thousand! . . . O! Jack, when delicate and feeling souls are separated, there is not a feature in the sky, not a movement of the elements; not an aspiration of the breeze, but hints some cause for a lover's apprehension! (II, i) The psychological reality which underlies Faulkland's obsessive preoccupation with Julia is actually selfishness. Like Lydia, Faulkland is preoccupied with the idea of being loved rather than with the act of loving Julia for herself. What unleashes his relentless apprehension is fear; fear that Julia has accepted him out of a sense of obligation because Faulkland saved her life. This fear compels him to establish innumerable tests of Julia's love which she bears patiently. Even when he claims to have killed a man in a duel and must flee the country, Julia offers to live in poverty with him. When Faulkland confesses that the story was simply another test of her love, Julia breaks off their relationship with apparent finality. As a result of this confrontation, Faulkland is stunned into the acceptance of his folly and acknowledges it as a kind of madness. The possibility of a comic resolution to this second plot rests solely with Julia, and she provides it in the end by forgiving Faulkland and taking him back. Part of the thematic genius of The Rivals centers on the fact that although Jack and Julia are the only two clear-sighted characters in the play where love is concerned, they never speak a single word to each other. Instead, their affections are each inexplicably focused on characters whose distorted visions serve only to disrupt and inhibit true love. Hence, love has marked even these "clear-sighted" characters with her stamp of the irrational and the unrealistic. Such a mark seems to be the universal signature of love's presence. This is not so much a dramatic gimmick in The Rivals as it is a reflection of the experience of life summarized in the clichÃ¨ "opposites attract." The Rivals depicts a world in which love is a mystery, as unpredictable and dangerous as it is compelling. It also suggests that by cultivating a genuine respect between the sexes and by acknowledging honest communication, lovers can avoid the more painful thorns on the rose of passion.
THE RIVALS AT THE COLORADO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL In Dr. Fink's version of the play, the character of Lucius O'Trigger is transformed into a Medicine Show pitchman who hawks his own secret Hot Bath Springs Elixir of Life while serving as a kind of Master of Ceremonies for the play. Jack Absolute is a United States Cavalry officer and his father, Anthony Absolute, is the owner of a large Colorado cattle outfit at the Absolute Ranch. Bob Acres, a bungling cowboy who hales from Clod Acres, owns a mule named Bessie who follows him everywhere-even into the hot baths for a soak! Lydia Languish is a western belle who models her ideal of romance on the queens of melodrama she has seen in touring shows at the Hot Bath Springs Opera House, and Mrs. Malaprop has some new solecisms guaranteed to baffle, bewilder and delight. The entire adaptation is liberally sprinkled with westernisms such as "hornswoggle," "flannel-mouthed," and "shave-tail." The highly adaptable set, designed by Robert Schmidt, moves smoothly from representations of a street in fictitious Hot Bath Springs, Colorado, to the hot baths themselves (no mixed bathing allowed!), to the lawn in front of the grand Hot Bath Springs Hotel where a fancy ball is in progress. The costumes designed by Deborah Bays include a combination of meticulously realistic garments from the period (Jack, Lydia, Faulkland, Julia) as well as some fantastic character clothes (Lucius, Bob Acres, Mrs. Malaprop). All this, along with solo, duet, and choral songs by such nineteenth century composers as Stephen Foster, Gussie Davis, Charles Harris, and John Stromberg, promise a Rivals unlike any ever seen before! Lucius O'Trigger's Elixer of Life will be on sale at intermission, and the script of Joel G. Fink's adaptation of all this loveable madness will be available for purchase as well. Bryan Humphrey, Dramaturg, The Rivals
• Durant, Jack. Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975. • Moorwood, James, The Life and Works of Richard Brinsley Sheridan . Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985. • Price, Cecil. The Dramatic Works of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. 2 Vols. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1973. • Sheridan, Richard Brinsley. The Rivals . Edited by Vincent F. Hopper and Gerald B. Lahey. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1958.