It’s all fun with language in French farce redux at North Coast Repertory Theatre
By Diana Saenger
Playwright David Ives’ “The School for Lies,” opening at North Coast Repertory Theatre this week, is his own spin on Molière’s 1666 comedy of manners about French aristocratic society, “The Misanthrope.”
“Lies” features frivolous lawsuits, sleazy lawyers and rock ‘n’ roll, and where Molière’s work was written entirely in verse, Ives’ is comprised of rhymed couplets.
Andrew Paul (co-producing artistic director and co-founder of The Phoenix in Pittsburgh) is on board to direct the play for the second time in his long career. He admits it has always fascinated him.
“In the last 10 years, Ives started writing these adaptations of French classics into English,” Paul said. “Ives and I share a belief that even though ‘The Misanthrope’ is perhaps Molière’s most well-known play, and perhaps his masterpiece, we both find it a little bit cold. Ives has created a new play, sort of a hybrid that still retains the plot and essence of the original, but tells the story in a unique way with added comedy, making it a little more accessible for a 21st century audience.”
In Ives’ play, the satirization of upper-class life in 17th-century Paris reveals that some things back then, were not so different from contemporary life in America.
“At the end of ‘The Misanthrope,’ Acaste (Jason Heil) has shunned society and is going off to a deserted island,” Paul said. “He asks Celimene (Jessica John) to come with him, but she refuses. He leaves on his own, and it’s kind of a cold ending. That’s a jumping off point for ‘School for Lies.’ Acaste has not been seen for two years. Celimene is presumed to be a widow until Frank (Richard Baird) becomes obsessed with finding out if what he’s heard is true — that she’s a coquette who entertains suitors and has completely transformed her life.”
Paul said he likes that the dialogue is done in Shakespearean iambic pentameter style.
“It’s not only the rhyming,” Paul said, “it’s a lexicon of words of which I had no idea what they meant. This makes it so fun for the audience because Ives is such a virtuoso of the English language.”
Ives pulled out all the stops to keep the rhymes going and play’s humor at the forefront.
“The show is funny, like the classic comedic farces of Molière’s ‘The Miser’ and ‘The Learned Ladies,’” Paul said. “They have a knockabout quality and there are a lot of clowns … luckily, there are fantastic comic actors in San Diego who are very terrific at specific comedic types. I feel fortunate we were able to cast so many of them.”
Paul said he has worked with sound designer Elizabeth Atkinson before and is delighted at the innovation she’s brought to “The School for Lies.”
“Elizabeth found a way to breach the 17th century with the 21st century,” Paul said. “Because Ives’ language is very contemporary, she took the music of the play, done on the harpsichord, and added syncopation and a drum beat. It fuses the two in an interesting way that’s funky and modern in one respect, but still has that harpsichord element underneath it.”
The cast also includes Brenda Dodge, Dana Hooley, Phil Johnson, David McBean, Jonathan McMurtry and Joel Ripka.
In addition to many laughs, Paul said he hopes the audience sees the verbal fireworks — where people use language as a weapon — and Ives’s work as a re-imagining of a great classic for the western audience. u
n IF YOU GO: ‘The School for Lies’ — When: Matinees, evenings through March 16. Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets: From $37. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org
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