School of Hard Knocks

Crass materialism, blatant hypocrisy, unrepentant social climbing, and vicious gossip make enduring dramatic fodder, which means the African-American Shakespeare Company's production of School for Scandal should translate nicely as a satire of backbiting black elites, although playwright Richard Sheridan wrote the now-classic 1777 comedy to mock fashionable 18th-century English society. (Sheridan, incidentally, could have written the ending to his own life's story: He was sent to debtors prison after the Drury Lane Theater, which he jointly owned, burned to the ground; his circle of wealthy friends came to his aid by throwing him a lavish funeral after he died.) Subtlety isn't Sheridan's strong point -- he gives his idle rich cognomens like Lady Sneerwell and Mrs. Candour -- but his wit has aged well and the characters, whose obsession with status colors their relationships, sound familiar even when their language does not. School is a good match for the company, whose skill has lain in giving new meaning to older works in productions like a Taming of the Shrew set at a backyard barbecue and an Oedipus Rex relocated from ancient Greece to an African village. Manu Mukasa directs the troupe's fifth Black History Month production, which begins at 8 p.m. Thursday (and runs through Feb. 14) in Mills College Theater's Lisser Hall, 5000 MacArthur, Oakland. Admission is $8-12; call 333-1918. For information on Black History Month, see upcoming Calendar listings.

-- Heather Wisner

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