By George Guerra, Contributing Writer
Pictures Courtesy of Bergen Stages

pick 67

The Rivals, the most famous play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan and directed by Bergen’s own Thomas O’Neil, delivers consistent laughs all the way through to the end. It cleverly demonstrated wit, and was carefully balanced with attention and delicacy in conveying the tale of how the love lives of the Nobles of Bath are increasingly complicated by their own foolishness.

As far as the stage direction and set design are concerned, both were outstanding. The musical transitions between scene changes as the servant characters move the props was a clever touch that allows the audience to remain immersed in the show, as none of the actions seem out of character. The music was period appropriate and everything seemed geared towards generating as authentic and engrossing an experience as possible.

pick 46

Jon Aponte stars as the Coachman, a character who, although plays a minor role, is the first to be introduced to the audience. In his initial performance opposite Jonathan Rueda, plays Fag Coachman, the devoted if somewhat bumbling servant of Captain Jack Absolute. He adds to the tone of the spectacularly performed period comedy.
John Kroner takes center stage as Captain Jack Absolute, a man who despite being of noble birth, poses as a poor ensign to win the affections of the overly romantic Lydia Languish. This plot is under constant threat of collapse, in part due to the young captain’s own hubris. Kroner’s performance was comprehensive in its embrace of the period, almost reminiscent of Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon.

Nicole Gallin plays Lydia Languish, a girl who cannot get past her romantic notions of giving up her wealth to live in poverty with her beloved, Captain Absolute. She later realizes that he has been playing her for a fool and is in fact rather wealthy. Gallin’s performance captured the irony of the character and Gallin’s talent as an actress would be demonstrated in Lydia’s melancholy.

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A personal highlight of the play was Jessie Jones’ Mrs. Malaprop, an Iconic character and the namesake of the word “malapropism”. The performance is sufficiently boisterous and strikes a great note between being simultaneously overacted and completely believable.

Jason Ver Hage becomes the sly and manipulative Sir Anthony Absolute, the Captain’s father, who wants to see his son marry a woman of Sir Anthony’s choosing. This is a point of contention for the two characters until Captain Jack realizes that his father intends him to marry Lydia. Ver Hage provides arguably one of the fiercest performances in the production, as Sir Anthony’s sophisticated manner is occasionally juxtaposed with his need to put his son in his place.

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The insecure Faulkland, played by Anthony Altavilla, and unknowing rival for Lydia’s affections Bob Acres, played by Herberth Rojas, are both good friends of Captain Absolute. Altavilla has an outstanding comedic timing, his pauses generating as many laughs as his bouts of frenzied insecurity. Rojas on the other hand has a talent for physical comedy, his signature move in the play being a shimmy of excitement that never failed to generate a laugh. Acres is accompanied by Katie Reinhardt, who plays David, a minor character who is portrayed with a unique self-awareness that serves as a foil to the oblivious dandyism of Bob Acres.

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A subplot involves Faulkland’s infatuation with a distant relative of the Absolutes, Julia, played by Rebecca Czarnogursy. Julia is a friend to Lydia, who in the early part of the play serves as straight man to the humor that is fixed in many of the young lady’s overly romantic notions. Czarnogursky’s understated performance and the wise nature of Julia make her appearances particularly poignant, and balance perfectly with the mischievous behavior of Lydia’s only other confidant, the duplicitous Lucy. This character, played by Ashley Driscoll, creates the distinct impression that she might just be the most competent character in the play. Despite her underhanded deceitfulness, she never fails to get paid, and plays the other characters against one another. Driscoll is impressive in her ability to switch between being subservient to Lydia and demonstrating her character’s true controlling nature, and has outstanding onstage chemistry with Dakota Librescu, who plays the brash Sir Lucius O’Trigger.

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Librescu has a style and charisma as Sir Lucius that is unmatched, and an Irish accent so believable that I was shocked to find that he was not in fact an immigrant. This was made even more impressive when Anthony Altavilla, who The Torch caught up with after the show, confirmed that there were no accent coaches and instead all the actors had to improvise their own.

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When asked what the most difficult part of the performance was, Altavilla responded: “Rehearsal! The characters are really complex, and I spent a long time trying to capture Faukland’s insecurity.” When asked about what the most fun part of the performance was, Altavilla said that it would either have to be closing night or opening night. Closing night due to it being the culmination of all the work and refinement of the rehearsals and previous performances, or opening night due to it being “the moment when it all came together.”