The School for Lies, by David Ives, based on Moliere's The Misanthrope. Directed by Chris Foster. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Nicolle Galligan, Nick Bosanko, Jennifer Lefsyk, Angelique Powell, Jason Biszick; rehearsal photo: supplied
"Erotic discipline is called for."
Seventeenth century sex farces are not easy: too many clothing layers from the waist down; too many large, unwieldly wigs to wear; too many rhymed couplets to manipulate in the seduction. Moliere is a master at making this all work and David Ives, his contemporary American adaptor, continues the master's trend by writing colloquial, movie-quip equivalents of those couplets, spoken at rapid-fire speed, that make us laugh away our embarrassment at witnessing the goings-on of the French upperclasses. For the Schenectady Civic Players edition of "The School for Lies," it is clear early on that manipulation is the key to love, or at least to love-making, and that the layers of honesty and prevarication need to be simultaneously stripped away in order to achieve a social climax before the blackout at the end.
While lies may work in order to get in the door, it is honesty that achieves the boudoir. This is the revelation of the play and Frank, the anti-hero of the play, succeeds where others fail. You might call that a spoiler alert, but not really; it is the revelation of the play. Adapted by David Ives, as part of a series of French comedies he has revisited over the course of his career, this 2017 play is on the road to becoming one of his more accessible pieces. A widow, Celimene, is pursued by lovers and rivals as she pursues a law suit and it takes a visiting Englishman with pretentions to screw everything up, and screw often, to shake up her world. This all takes a franctic two and a half hours to perform and while you may not catch every innuendo and sexual reference on a first go-round, it is worth watching and listening and laughing at the insanity these characters present.
Jennifer Lefsyk, Jason Biszick; rehearsal photo: supplied
Celimene is played with a delicious sense of flirtation by Jennifer Lefsyk who seemingly cannot make an entrance or an exit, sit or rise, extend an arm or pertly parse a fan without it having some sensual repercussions. She handles the couplets as though they were merely common conversation and so her lines are among the clearest and cleanest (logically, not sexually) on the stage. She moves in the period clothing as though she has always worn it. She is a delight in the leading role.
Jason Biszick brings to the role of Frank, the outsider who could easily pose as the Marquis deSade's protegee, all that his character's name implies. He lies with impunity and faces his honest feelings with more of the same. When taken over by love this French version of Petrucchio (Shakespeare's most sensual hero) dominates even the strong Celimene while inspiring lust in other women. Biszick is wonderful in the role, very believable.
Among Celimene's other suitors is the fey fop Philinte who is given a nervous nellie interpretation by Nick Bosanko that seemed just right. The massive-wigged Clitander, played by David Rook, is his equal in peculiarity and a third man, Oronte, is played with verve and a mastery of the rapid-fire quip by Rich Angehr. Aileem Penn is suitor number four, Acaste, who keeps trying to be loving but can't help but emerge critical.
Angelique Powell, Nick Bosanko, Jason Biszick; rehearsal photo: supplied
Eliante, played by the delightful and talented Angelique Powell, who is a much more demure soul is so overpowered by Frank's sensuality that she is moved to relinquish her much cherished virginity whether he will take it or not. Powell is hilarious in the role.
The villain of the piece, Celimene's rival Arsinoe, is played with a mischievous laugh and snarl by Nicolle Galligan who is so good at being so bad that you want to so spank her now and then. When she delights in discovering secrets the theater literally shakes from her spontaneous reaction.
The cast is completed by Jean T. Carney as both Dubois and Pasque. Her physical comedy is just as good as any Ives/Moliere line in the play.
Moliere's play, set in the year 1666, shows us how little things have changed in all the centuries when it comes to men and women, sex and greed, power and class structure. Ives version is set in that same year, and yet it could be a modern play, a sex-romp movie like the popular films of today. I suggest that you ignore the wigs and the fancy dress and just listen to the interplay between the characters, envision Reese Witherspoon and Adam Sandler and you've got the knack of it. Director Chris Foster has brought out the modern through Ives language and the realities of the people and given it all back to the style of the period of the original play. The combination works wonderfully.
He is assisted by a lovely set by Joseph Fava and excellent costumes by Beth Ruman. The company delivers brilliantly in a piece that probably shouldn't work this well. It's great to see so much talent come together to entertain an audience that grows daily more accustomed to outrageous farce just by watching the TV news.
The School for Lies plays at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church Street, Schenetady, NY through May 13. For information and tickets go to www.civicplayers.org or call 518-382-2081.