"The School for Lies" at Classic Stage Company, April 30, 2011
David Ives returns to CSC with another update of a classic. This time it's a fresh interpretation of Moliere's The Misanthrope.
And fresh, indeed. Mr. Ives manages to combine the French salon of the empire with a hilarious farce entirely in verse and using quite contemporary and usually anachronistic language. It's a similar feat to that of this season's revival of David Hirson's La Bete, but this time it doesn't require the masterful skills of Mark Rylance to achieve success.
Mr. Ives kicks off this grand time with the names assigned to his characters. The misanthrope, a man incapable of guile or dishonesty, even for the sake of polite society is aptly named Frank (Hamish Linklater). Celimene (Mamie Gummer) is the widowed owner of the manse where the action occurs, and has a slander charges pending against her. She sports a barbed tongue as sharp as Frank's, but wields it purely for sport, "I never gossip, I just repeat." Losing the case will render her penniless if her secrets are revealed. Complicating the suit is Celimene's rival, Arsinoe (Alison Fraser). She also has three suitors: the obnoxious and untalented, self-styled poet Oronte (Rick Holmes), Acaste (Matthew Maher) a vapid hanger-on, and her oily lawyer Clitander (Frank Harts). Philante (Hoon Lee) and Elainte (Jenn Gambatese) round out the cast as friends of Celimene and Steven Boyer doubling as servants of both Celimene and Frank.
Mr. Linklater's Shakespearean experience rings through loud and clear as he skillfully manipulate the verse. His Frank is a bit reluctant, but always rises when challenged. Equalling his performance is Ms. Gummer, looking and acting more like her mother with each new role. She commands the range from elegant to acerbic to vulnerable.
Director Walter Bobbie is in high form. He navigates this farce with aplomb, pulling elegance and pratfalls together, matching Mr. Ive's mix of period and contemporary with laughs aplenty, and a final, touching plot twist. It's an excellent match of director and writer, showing an enhanced relationship following their pairing last in with Venus in Fur.
The crisp, upholstered white set is by John Lee Beatty (and Restoration Hardware). William Ivey Long's costumes are sumptuous and elegant.
It's an excellent evening of theatre - don't miss it!
The School for Lies runs through May 22. Click here for tickets.