Hamish Linklater and Mamie Gummer
in The School for Lies
(© Joan Marcus)
Hamish Linklater and Mamie Gummer
in The School for Lies
(© Joan Marcus)
David Ives offers up a grand -- and somewhat farcical -- riff on Moliere's The Mistanthrope in The School for Lies, now playing at Classic Stage Company in an utterly delightful production under the direction ofWalter Bobbie.

Like the classic comedy on which it is based, Ives' play centers on a man who has developed a distaste and hatred for the falseness often required by polite society. Ives has renamed the character Frank (Hamish Linklater), which seems only appropriate given the bluntness with which he assails those around him.

As in Moliere, Frank finds himself drawn to the entirely wrong sort of woman, the flirtatious and gossipy Celimene (Mamie Gummer). In Ives' version, this attraction is inspired by a bit of malicious misinformation provided by a mutual friend, Philante (Hoon Lee), who tells Frank that it's Celemine who is in love with him and who indicated to her that Frank will be able to help her with a pending lawsuit at court.

Ives' upping of the ante on the couple's romance is one of the more inspired revisions to the original, and pays some terrific comic dividends as Frank's amorous entanglements extend to two other women: Celimene's cousin, the sweetly naïve Eliante (Jenn Gambatese), and a hypocritically pious dowager (Alison Fraser), who has it in for Celimene and is behind the libel suit against the younger woman.

The details of the play are not the only thing that Ives has changed; he has also modernized some of the play's language, even as he has maintained its rhyming couplet scheme. Words like "dude" and references to things such a "Pilates" abound. The anachronisms can initially jar theatergoers (particularly given that the play retains its mid-seventeenth century setting and boasts some absolutely ravishing, and concurrently hysterical, period costumes from William Ivey Long). But audiences soon revel in the combination of heightened language and contemporary references.

Audiences will also find that they quickly succumb to the comedic charms of the company. Not only is Linklater pitch-perfect as Frank, deftly blending edgy bitterness with keen intelligence (and even earnest goofiness once Frank has really fallen for Celimene), Gummer turns in a performance of such blissful control and dryness, which tremendously enriches the character's comic side.

Equally enjoyable -- and frequently hysterical -- are the performances from Gambatese and Fraser, whose work captures the other women's dual natures with pinpoint accuracy. As three cartoonish men who are all trying to woo Celimene alongside Frank, Rick Holmes, Matthew Maher, and Frank Harts each turn in performances that amuse, while Steven Boyer delivers a turn as Celimene's much put-upon and abused servant that nearly steals this exceedingly funny and thoroughly enjoyable show.