Which came first, ‘Rivals’ or rotten tomatoes?

By Lisa Anderson

The Rivals, a play culled from a funnier-than-average script by StageRight Productions, is something of a quagmire.

Set to the backdrop of hackneyed 1880 New Orleans and populated by characters whose accents sound less convincing than a truant student’s feigned cough, Rivals still manages to achieve a stumbling sort of charm.

The script-based on wordplay and misunderstandings, desires and deception-is an American interpretation of Richard Sheridan’s classic, directed by Beth Bruner. The costumes were foppishly fit, and the accents were a bit distracting; a few of the actors got it right, but those who didn’t (and there were several) were more noticeable.

Housed in an old movie theatre, the play’s atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed: Concessions are welcome.

The story is one of mismatched loves and overlapping lives-including a man who pretends to be less than he is in order to woo a young woman and a middle-aged woman whose lover is led to believe that she is a teenager-and its pacing is often, but not always, fast.

Rivals standout character is Mrs. Malaprop-yes, as in “malapropism”-who fancies herself the possessor of a large and impressive vocabulary, despite the fact she uses most of her $2 words incorrectly. She is at one point proud of the “malevolence” with which she has treated her dear, sweet niece, when we can only assume that “benevolence” was her intention.

There is also a very saucy and sassy French maid and a colonel whose resemblance to the KFC mascot gives pause-which came first, the chicken or the costume?

There are dashing young men and lovely young ladies, tempers, tantrums and haughty pronouncements. While the climax is a bit anti, overall, Rivals is still worth the $9 student admission price, Fridays and Saturdays until July 22, at 5001 South Highland Drive.

For more information, visit http://stageright.org.