The School For Lies at Park Square Theatre

John Middleton, Kate Guentzel and Anna Hickey in The School For Lies.  Photo by Petronella Ytsma.

John Middleton, Kate Guentzel and Anna Hickey in The School For Lies. Photo by Petronella Ytsma.

A play has two primary sources of appeal.  First, there is the moment-by-moment texture.  Is it fun to act?  Fun to watch?  Does the language enthrall, are there compelling nooks and crannies in the characters?  Does the design provide good eye candy?

And then you have the overall arc: what do the moments add up to?  Does the plot satisfy?  Do the characters meaningfully change?

In The School For Lies, David Ives‘s gorgeous adaptation of Molière‘s problematic The Misanthrope (at Park Square, through Feb 2), the moment-by-moment delights.  First and foremost there’s Ives’s wonderful language.  Gloriously anachronistic, filled with clever turns of phrases, exuberant word-play, mile-a-minute energy, laugh-out-loud discoveries and unending appeal, Ives’s play will make you marvel.  The play rhymes, in Molièrean couplets, but Ives isn’t utterly locked into the unforgiving AB structure (like so many Moliere adapters, who write like human rhyming dictionaries).  In The School For Lies, the language is supple, varying, muscular – and very modern.  All in all, I found Lies to be much more enjoyable than Ives’s fiery but forgettable Venus In Fur at the Jungle a few plays ago.

The acting is the play’s equal, and then some.  Under Amy Rummenie‘s firm and brisk direction (she is emerging as the area’s most astute drawer-out of intelligent acting performances), everyone thrills.  I only regret that I lack the space here to wax rhapsodic about everyone.  Still, I have to mention John Middleton‘s wonderful turn as Frank (short for François, the Alceste character).  Middleton prowls the stage and carries every scene with loose-limbed charisma.  Anna Hickey as Eliante is both sweet and taut.  As Arsinoé, Andrea Wollenberg is arch and predatory.  She underplays everything and I couldn’t rip my eyes off her.  Kate Guentzel plays Celimine splendidly, with wide-eyed energy and fire.  The always reliable John Catron is a hoot, lithping gloriouthly.  David Beukema minces brilliantly.  OK, OK, I’ll stop.

Design is also excellent, especially costumer Susan E. Mickey‘s delightful creations.

But what about, I hear you asking, the overall arc?  Here the play presents problems.  Do we really care that Celimene and Eliante are both beloved of Frank?  Do we believe Frank when he claims to love Celimene?  Up to now he has been cynicism personified, and now he’s in love?  The marriage proposal of the three doofuses amuses, but we know that they will be refused.  Ives only wants us to look down our noses at them.  The bad-poetry lawsuit.  Really?

The Misanthrope always presents a problem, to audiences as well as to actors: hate him (for his cynicism) or love him (for his passion)?  The School For Lies, with its twenty-first century sensibility, wants us to do both.  And certainly I was there, and kudos to John Middleton for making it possible.  But this modern approach exacerbates the plot problem: the more delicious the characters are, the less seriously we take their 17th century quandaries.

Ah, but who cares.  This is a smallish problem.  If you want to see fabulous acting and a super-smart script, The School For Lies is the play for you.  Recommended.

For more info about John Olive, please visit his website.

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