BWW Review: The Rhyme's the Thing at Burbage's THE SCHOOL FOR LIES
It's always exciting when a young theater company finds a place to call its own, a permanent home where it can develop creatively and grow hopefully long-lasting roots into the surrounding community and the local arts scene. Such is the case with Burbage Theatre Co., which has just opened its first ever show in their new space at 59 Blackstone Ave in Pawtucket. While the show, David Ives' The School for Lives is a bit uneven, it is an undeniably successful launch of this exciting new phase in the life of Burbage.
The play is an adaptation, a sort of updated version, of Moliere's The Misanthrope. Not an exact translation, but more of a sequel, or what Hollywood these days might call a reboot. It's "sort of" updated because not everything is adjusted to modern times, the setting, costumes and time period remain the same 1666 French locale. The dialogue, though, contains many contemporary references and modern sensibilities, while maintaining the classical style of being written in rhyming verse.
Ives' writing of the entire play in that rhyming style is an impressive feat and one that creates a sort of live by the sword, die by the sword proposition. Audiences will either love or hate it, depending on their tolerance for or enjoyment of that type of constantly rhyming dialogue. There are times when the play becomes more about listening for the next rhyme ("what's he going to rhyme that with?" or "I can't believe he rhymed that with that") than it is about anything that's happening with the plot or characters. It may best be enjoyed by not thinking too much about those characters or the plot and just enjoying the silliness, bawdiness, wit, and farcical fun that's happening pretty much non-stop.
Director Jeff Church keeps all of those aspects of this play moving at a pretty quick pace, maybe a little too quick at some moments in the early going. He also makes masterful use of the new space, which features audience members sitting on three sides of the stage. Using angles and the corners of the playing space, Church almost never has his actors performing with their backs to the audience, except for a few moments at the play's climax, which is especially noticeable since it's avoided so well the rest of the time. One of the production's highlights is the physical comedy, another area where Church's direction is excellent and delivers perfect and hilarious results.
Church's cast is a big part of what makes those moments successful and it's always fun to watch an ensemble of actors who are totally game and giving it their all. As Celimene, hostess of a salon in Paris, Catia is effervescent and wonderfully adept at throwing deadly verbal daggers across the room while maintaining a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. As Frank, the mysterious visitor who throws her Salon into chaos, James Lucey is brooding and intense, although sometimes that intensity seems a bit misplaced. Victor Neto, as Frank's friend Philinte, does some excellent work and is frequently hilarious, even though the character mostly exists as a plot device to create conflict or incite something to happen.
For the most part, the ensemble does their absolute best with what little Ives has given them to work with. Vince Petronio, Richard Noble, and Matthew Fagan play three of Celimene's suitors, Oronte, Clitander, and Acaste, respectively. Fagan acquits himself the most successfully, delivering a very funny performance as a potential mate who believes his stupidity is his greatest selling point. Petronio, although his acting is overshadowed by his enormous fake nose, also has some excellent moments.
Gabrielle McCauley is one of the absolute reasons to see the show, in an undeniably hysterical performance as Eliante. McCauley gets some of the best lines, best moments, and most variety in her character's motivations and objectives, and she takes full advantage of all of those. She also gets to share the show's best scene when she and Lucey have a moment alone on stage as Eliante expresses her...shall we say...intentions towards Frank.
In a role that affords her an unfortunately small amount of stage time, Valerie Westgate is as much a force of nature as the thunderstorm that announces her entrance. As Celimene's archrival Arsinoe, Westgate channels a maniacal and devious Disney villain and makes it a real, fully realized character, and a very funny one at that. Rounding out the cast, and stealing many a scene, is Andrew Iacovelli as both Dubois and Basque. Not only does he steal scenes, he does so at times without uttering a single word. Iacovelli has fewer lines than anyone else but creates a master class in doing more with less and taking full advantage of the moments one has, and he has a number of the best moments and biggest laughs in the show.
In addition to those laughs, this is a play with a little something for everyone. There are timely, relevant themes, ripe for discussion and debate. There's intelligent, witty dialogue and snarky, biting sarcasm. Bawdy humor and physical comedy. And a romantic love story or two. It's well worth seeing and a good reason to introduce yourself to Burbage's new space or to Burbage Theatre Co. in general, if you've never seen one of their shows.
The School for Lies runs through October 20 at Burbage's new location in downtown Pawtucket at 59 Blackstone Ave. Performances for the remainder of the run will be on Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. General admission tickets are $25, with student tickets at $15, and tickets are free for high school students. To purchase tickets, visit their website at www.burbagetheatre.org and for more information, contact the company at email@example.com or 401)484-0355.
Pictured (L to R): James Lucey and Victor Neto. Photo by Maggie Hall.