When Truth Is Out of Fashion: Christine Adaire Directs M.F.A. Students in The School for Scandal

By Kayla Minton Kaufman

Director Christine Adaire and M.F.A. students Jared Manders, Summer Brown, and Dinah Berkeley chat before rehearsal. Photo by Annie Sears.

A world where truth is questioned, lives are manipulated by lies, and virtue is unfashionable—no, this isn’t today’s American society, but the 18th-century London high society of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. A.C.T.’s Head of Voice Christine Adaire is directing her own steampunk-infused adaptation, which our second-year M.F.A. students will present November 8–17. In this classic comedy, Lady Sneerwell and Joseph Surface spread lies to ensnare their loves, the Teazles fight for power within their marriage, while Sir Oliver uses disguises to reveal truth. But when society is built on a web of lies, can the truth be untangled? We sat down with Director Christine Adaire to hear more.

What drew you to direct The School for Scandal?
I’m very concerned about this moment in time, this post-truth era, with different versions of truth and alternative facts. A lot of this play is about gossip, rumors, and people who spread lies for entertainment and profit. It’s a potent topic for today.

It’s also a very funny play, and comedy has a unique ability to comment on society. The play is cartoonish, but also has very human moments. It’s about love and unrequited love, betrayal and forgiveness. And in the end, the villains are exposed. There’s something very satisfying about the justice served when liars are shunned from society.

Why steampunk?
I wanted to bring the play a little more up-to-date so the audience wouldn’t see it as something antique. Steampunk is inspired by the Victorian era, but it’s also fantastical, edgy, sassy, and really sexy. I wanted to see our M.F.A. students—who are such beautiful, smart, young people—in a style that wouldn’t weigh them down with history. Something that would show them off, and with this element of fantasy, give them more permission to step into this unfamiliar world.

What do you hope audiences will take away?
I want them to hear it afresh and look for truth. Ultimately, theater is about the pursuit of truth; it’s a lens for people to look at their own lives and our society. There are big questions in this play: what is truth, what is a lie, and what damage can a lie cause? When objective truth is being questioned, what do we do with that? 

Want to experience this edgy adaptation of a classic? The School for Scandal runs November 8–17 in The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. Get your tickets today!

Kayla Minton Kaufman is A.C.T.’s 2018–19 Artistic Fellow and Assistant Director for The School for Scandal.

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