The School for Lies
Classic Stage Company serves up a delightful production of David Ives' reworking of Moliere's The Misanthrope.
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.