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BWW Review: THE SCHOOL FOR LIES at Shakespeare Theatre Company

DC is a topsy-turvy, satirical farce; or so it seems this morning. Happily, so is The School for Lies. At least The School for Lies is fiction and man, it felt good to laugh.

Attention spans are short in the era of the tweet, so I'll keep this review short and neat. Playwright David Ives' The School for Lies is the most recent modern adaption of Molière's baroque comedy of manners, The Misanthrope.

The Misanthrope was a thoroughly modern play when it debuted in Paris in 1666. So it makes complete and utter sense that Ives' The School for Lies, which originally debuted in 2011, has been re-adapted in the intervening years. I can't say whether Ives had fun re-adapting The School for Lies for 2017 (no one is really having fun in 2017) but it is very fun to watch. This is all down to the fact that The School for Lies is, save a few references to fake news, etc., sans politics.

The School for Lies is a fly by the seat of your pants experience. Ives is the master of keeping his audiences happy. He retains Molière's rhyming couplets and The School for Lies flies by with a lyrical pace reminiscent of a good operetta. Ives keeps Molière's basic plot but tweaks the script to accommodate modern jargon.

The School for Lies is set in Celimene's (the impeccable Victoria Frings) salon in Paris, 1666. Libel suits are en vogue and our heroine Celimene is a flirtatious socialite with a sharp wit. On the flipside, Frank (Gregory Woodell) is a blunt, self-righteous man. Inevitably, Frank and Celimene clash and a verbal sparring match ensues. What follows is fairly formulaic; they fall in love.

A series of capers and a hefty dose of intrigue follow. Celimene must contend with a libel suit as well as the goody-goody Arsinoë (Veanne Cox), a scheming older woman hell-bent on destroying Celimene's prospects.

Unbeknownst to Celimene, her goofy, sweet-natured cousin, Eliante (Dorea Schmidt) pines for Frank. All the while her secret-admirer and genuine good-guy Philinte (a cowering Cody Nickell) watches events unfold in the wings, paralyzed by politeness.

Celimene is also surrounded by a pack of groupies vying for her attention: the pompous idiot Acaste (Liam Craig), the flamboyant, insecure poet Oronte (Tom Story), and the consummate pervert (Cameron Folmar).

Servants Dubois and Basque (Michael Glenn) reject the rhyming couplets and speak frankly; a multi-layered commentary on the vapid blustering of those "in charge."

Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge's stage is a modern art enthusiast's playground. A Salvado Dali Mae West Lips Couch is the centerpiece of a salon that features a Jeff Koons purple Balloon Dog in a cage up high. It's all very trendy and Instagram-worthy.

Costume Designer Murell Horton treats his audience to a sumptuous 17th century display of wigs and corsets, with just a dash of modern "gaga." Murrell's "gaga" factor is particularly evident in the poet Oronote's tunic, which features his own face (it could only be you) and Celimene's ombre gown. Never has the 17th century looked more modern.

Lighting Designer Mark McCullough's rose-tinted mood light created an ambience that reinforces Dodge and Murell's aesthetic. My only quibble is that the Jeff Koons Balloon Dog could have been lit more effectively. Everything onstage, from the costumes to the set, is just so charming.

The School for Lies is chalk full of straight-up weirdoes. Usually, this means that every cast member must shout above the weird to make an impact, which hardly allows for a navigable cast dynamic but the cast of The School for Lies and Director Michael Kahn make it work.

Audience favorite Cox hams it up as Arsinoë. Craig, Story, and Folmar are a showy trio and their escapades are fun to watch. Glenn, as the overworked servants Dubois and Basque, is an effective audience ambassador.

Schmidt's Eliante strikes the perfect balance between restrained and individualistic, executing a surprising amount of physical comedy in a gown larger than most wedding dresses.

Frings is a poised and unflappable heroine with a strong sense of self. Sure, Celimene may be a bit of a gossip but Frings's Celimene exhibits an unmatched level of character development. Frings is tested early on with a series of outlandish impersonations, including a rap that she delivers without missing a beat. Frings delivery aside, I have mixed feelings about a rap in a show already written in rhyming couplets. But I'll take take that up with the playwright.

The stage is full of stereotypes but Woodell's tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Frank, the typical boisterous male in charge, is the most obvious of all. There is no doubt that Frings and Wooddell have onstage chemistry and make a handsome Celimene and Frank.

There is a lot of relatable material in The School for Lies, which is part of what makes it a successful production. If you don't recognize yourself up there, you recognize someone you know and in the dark theatre, it's ok to laugh at them.

The School for Lies is playful and the perfect escape for the world-weary Washingtonian.

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission

Advisory: Adult themes

THE SCHOL FOR LIES runs through July 9th at the Shakespeare Theatre Company Lanburgh Theatre located at 450 7th St., NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets click here.

Photo: Photo of The School for Lies cast by Scott Suchman.



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