It's a busy time of year, but do yourself a favor and make time to attend The School for Lies, currently appearing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
David Ives’s play, an adaptation of the 17th century’s The Misanthrope by Molière, takes a very humorous and highly entertaining look at appearances vs. authenticity and superficiality vs. substance. It pokes fun at the lies people tell each other and the deception inherent in societal games people play to keep up appearances.
The School for Lies is a quick-witted verbal barrage of retorts, sarcasm, misunderstandings, and schemes, all delivered in clever and amusing rhyming couplets.
Anyone who has attended the CST’s Shakespeare plays is used to seeing those stories told in modern times with modern dress while retaining the original language. This play turns that idea on its head with 17th century Parisian society and clothing dressed up in modern day language and references. Hearing modern words like “dude” and “LOL” coming from people in 17th century French dress is startling at first, but it works, because whether it’s the 17th or 21st century, human emotions and interactions don’t change much across the centuries.
All cast members are excellent in their respective roles.
Deborah Hay is very comical in the starring role of Celimene, the young widow who entertains suitors and other members of Parisian society. While she plays the societal game of superficiality, she does so with an edge, because she’s aware of the foolishness inherent in it. In a modern twist, she raps and mimics a Valley girl while dressed in 17th century costume.
Ben Carlson stars as Frank, the intelligent but pompous mysterious visitor who rankles against societal superficialities and illusions and loves to reveal the truth (as he sees it) to everyone. His interactions with the other cast members and his reactions to situations provide many humorous moments as his character evolves throughout the play.
Kevin Gudahl (as Acaste), Greg Vinkler (as Oronte), and Paul Slade Smith (as Clitander) are great fun to watch as the bumbling, clueless, hopeful suitors of Celimene.
Sean Fortunato (as Philinte) has a lot of fun with his versatile role and makes it equally fun for the audience to watch.
Philinte’s love interest, Eliante (played by Heidi Kettenring) is delightfully confused as she becomes infatuated with Frank who she naively sees him as a tortured soul.
Judith-Marie Bergan has the “straight man” role of Arsinoé, the uptight “friend” of Celimene who sees herself as the moral register of society and who uses friendship as an opportunity to snoop and spread gossip. It can’t be easy to have the one straight role in a cast of comedic roles, but Bergan does it very well.
Even the minor roles of Celimene’s servant and Frank’s valet (both played by Samuel Taylor) provide some very humorous moments to the play.
One caveat: This play is for adults only due to a great deal of raw language and some sexual situations.
If you’re someone who likes to leave early to beat the crowd, don’t do that with this play, because you’ll miss some very funny twists in the last scene that humorously tie up all of the loose ends.
The School for Lies, directed by Barbara Gaines, will continue at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier through January 20. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 312-595-5600. Parking at Navy Pier is only $10 after 5 p.m. through March 17.
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