Set in Bath, a British resort town, THE RIVALS details just how far a group of society well-to-dos will go in order to capture the elusive magic of love. Miss Lydia Languish, an idealistic and wealthy young woman, insists on marrying a poor man for the sake of true love; as a result, the equally wealthy Captain Jack Absolute, who loves Lydia body and soul, must offer himself to her in the guise of a poor naval officer. A number of secondary characters take part in Jack's pursuit, including the acrimonious Sir Anthony Absolute, Jack's father; the infamously misspoken Mrs. Malaprop, Lydia's aunt; and the likable Bob Acres, Jack's former friend and future foe.
Filled with extravagant characters, exuberant energy and numerous farcical devices, THE RIVALS is a joyous romp that skewers marriage, class and wealth.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751 - 1816) seemed destined to work in the theater: his father was an actor and his mother was an author, having published several novels. When he was twenty-one, Sheridan went with his father to Bath, where the would-be playwright fell in love. Sheridan and his new wife moved to London shortly thereafter with no prospects except his wife's dowry. Having some experience writing poetry and satire, Sheridan tried his hand at playwrighting to earn money.
The first performance of THE RIVALS, held on January 17, 1775, was actually not very well received--in turn, Sheridan cut it by an hour, strengthened the characters, replaced much of the cast and, eleven nights later, produced a new version in a highly successful second performance (!) that proved his merit as a great comic playwright. Two years later, Sheridan wrote and directed A School for Scandal, which would become his masterpiece.