Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shakespeare Meets the Stooges in The School for Lies

Shakespeare Meets the Stooges in The School for Lies

The Pittsburgh and Irish Classical Theatre’s production of David Ives’ “School for Lies” melds the elegance of language with the comedic tour de force of slapstick.  Ives renders Molière’s original dialogue in over the top rhyme, blending contemporary themes with 17th Century cultural ennui.

PICT’s production, mixing the classy and the crass in somewhat balanced proportions, stars Leo Marks as Molière’s truth-telling society hater, Frank. An unlikely name for a Frenchman of 1666, true, but Ives takes lavish liberties with his model. He adds farcical fanfare to “The Misanthrope” plot and blends generous helpings of current vulgarity into verse that mimics the simpering style of the Paris salon aristocrats.

Leo Marks and Nike Doukas as Frank and Celimene
Satire and scatological humor pair seamlessly in the witty and sometimes barbed verse.  The audience was left with the challenge of keeping up with the fast-paced socio-economic commentary when it switches from the present-day to the French classic and then back again.  Among the horrors Frank cannot abide are the hordes of the overweight in flip-flops blocking sidewalks: “Each one upholding our most sacred law:/The people’s right to suck a soda straw.”

The salon of Celimene (Nike Doukas) is the setting, with all the sumptuousness and excess that marked that era of French history.  The glittering crystal, silks, satin and lace evoke a time of majesty rivaled only by the backstabbing duplicity of court-wannabees and where the word play presented “gossip” as “reporting”…perhaps a touch of “Entertainment Tonight” or “Access Hollywood”?

Celimine with her admirers

Celimine (Nike Doukas) and Arsinoe  (Helena Ruoti)
Celimene plays to the crowd of anxious suitors with stinging impersonations of a sleazy lawyer in rap and an acquaintance/rival who channels the best of valley girl affectations – please, no more use of the word ‘like’!

Frank, his name a play on a synonym for candor, cannot stand the hypocrisy that surrounds him.  He initially scorns Celimene but when she mistakenly believes he has influence at court to assist her with her impending suit, she elects to turn her feminine wiles on full blast to make him yet another convert.  He quickly becomes enraptured, joining the other sycophants scattered at her feet.  Eliante (Robin Abramson), Celimine’s ingénue cousin ignores Frank’s friend and apologist Philinte (Joel Ripka) and literally throws herself at Frank.  At the same time, the devious Arsinoe (Helena Ruoti), while scheming to destroy Celimine’s reputation, finds herself entranced with the aloof Frank.

Mr. Ives descends a few notches below the comic refinement that Molière achieved in “The Misanthrope,” which is considered the ‘pinnacle of his art for the nuance of its portraiture and the sharpness of its satire’. In its more base characters and emphasis on lewd sexual humor, “The School for Lies” often evokes the bawdy bent of British comic playwrights influenced by Molière rather than the French master himself.

With a nod to Shakespeare’s comedies as inspiration, Ives employs the running joke regarding a man in drag as a focus on the bard’s tried and true disguise and revelation technique to bring the play to culmination.  The slapstick element, with the plate of canapés being repeatedly tossed in the air and the long suffering Dubois setting about to clean up, did get to be a tad tedious, although one member of the audience continued to murmur “ahhhhh” in sympathy every time, while the rest of us seemed to feel enough was enough.

The PICT ensemble cast did a terrific job with the complicated dialogue, demonstrating even on opening night the consummate professionalism of the troupe. The School for Lies runs through December 15th at The Charity Randall Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, University of Pittsburgh.

By David Ives, based on Molière’s “Misanthrope”
Directed by Andrew S. Paul
Leo Marks as Frank
Nike Doukas as Celimine
Joel Ripka as Philinte
Robin Abramson as Eliante
Helen Ruoti as Arsinoe
Martin Giles as Oronte
James FitzGerald as Acaste
Matt DeCaro as Dubois/Basque

Reviewed by Joyce Kane on behalf of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates.  Joyce Kane is the owner of Cybertary Pittsburgh, a Virtual Administrative support company, providing virtual office support, personal and executive assistance, creative design services and light bookkeeping.  Cybertary works with businesses and busy individuals to help them work 'on' their business rather than 'in' their business.

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