In “The Misanthrope,” the master comic playwright Molière invented a fork-tongued critic of shallow, insufferably catty and mendacious 17th-century Parisian high society — who can’t resist the charms of one of its most fickle beauties.
David Ives, no shabby humorist himself, follows suit in his loose, semi-modern adaptation, “The School for Lies.”
Recently represented here by his smash hit “Venus in Fur,” Ives has the acidic wit to spike this farcical soufflé with today’s slang and outrage. (He changes the misanthrope’s name from “Alceste” to “Frank”). And along with folding in bits of commedia dell’arte-style slapstick, Ives has the virtuosity to fashion decorously cutting couplets akin to those in Molière’s 1666 text.
Bien sûr, turning this all into two hours of stage hilarity is no breeze.
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Sound Theatre Company’s Seattle premiere of “School for Lies” does have a dandy curmudgeon in Frank Lawler, a vocally nimble player who can make elaborately encrusted, strictly metered verse sound almost natural. In addition, Lawler deftly employs a swell vocabulary of grimaces, cringes and stone-faced double takes.
Period comedy requires a very specific skill set. But much of the cast doesn’t match Lawler’s stylistic savoir faire.
Most handle the rhyming verse energetically and cogently — but with a tendency to become sing-songy. (An exception is Marianna de Fazio, as the ingenue Eliante.)
More troublesome are casting missteps. Not a perfect match for their roles are Page Byers as the glam young widow Célimène; shouty Matthew Gilbert as a member of the glittering salon who dabbles in cross-dressing; and a stiffly mannered Alysha Curry as Célimène’s nemesis.
The timing of the mugging jests of three foppish fools who vie with Frank for Célimène’s affections is spotty. And Henry James Walker dispatches some of the funniest (and most acrobatic) shtick in two servant roles, but can’t do much with Ives’ running gag of a flying tray of canapés. (It’s not funny the first time, nor the sixth.)
Co-directors Teresa Thuman and Ken Michaels and designers have nicely adorned the play with taffy-pastel period costumes, French Provincial furniture and flowing drapes. It’s the right setting for a comedy that should sparkle like Champagne — but on this occasion, too often falls flat.
Misha Berson: email@example.com