How do you get a theater audience in 2018, used to bite-sized infotainment, to embrace a show set in 1666, with men in hose and sky-high wigs a-plenty, which is written completely in verse?
You make it hilariously witty, rip-roaringly bawdy, surprisingly up-to-date, cast it with actors completely comfortable with one another and add director extraordinaire Chris Foster’s characteristic keen eye – and your audience will be laughing so hard they can’t catch a breath.
Adapted by David Ives from Molière’s The Misanthrope, The School for Lies tells the tale of Frank (Jason Biszick), a British traveler who has come to Paris and reconnects with his friend Philinte (Nick Bosanko) at the happening place to be in 1666 – Celimene’s studio. Celimene (Jennifer Lefsyk), a young widow, is being courted by a number of men and is well-known for her cutting wit and caustic impressions of others in their social circle. At a time where manners are everything, Frank refuses to play the game; he says what he means and is disgusted by the false faces the high-society folk put on around one another – and, through a series of lies, he and Celimene are drawn to one another romantically.
This cast plays so well together it’s just an utter joy to watch them; not only are they quick physically, but they’re so good with the verse. Not a single stumble with any of these difficult lines, and they threw the rhyme back and forth so deftly. Foster’s casting here is just sublime. Lefsyk’s Celimene is a woman not to be trifled with; she knows exactly how to get what she wants and has a brilliant mind. She brightens any scene she is in. Her interactions with Biszick are especially strong. Biszick himself is at the top of his game here; he’s all gloom and doom, then manic energy, going from one to the next, always keeping everyone on their toes. Angelique Powell, as Eliante, Celimene’s cousin, is a ray of sunshine, and yet a woman with hidden depths; Bosanko, as the man who loves her, opens the show with a wonderful comic monologue that got everyone completely in the mood, and continued his strong performance throughout, highlighted by a fabulous turn as … let’s just say royalty near the end of the show. Nicolle Galligan, as Arsinoe, Lefsyk’s 17th-century frenemy, was a treat; half cartoon villainess, half uptight church lady, and all hilarity.
As always, Beth Ruman’s costume design was gorgeous, but she really got to play this time, and the results were utterly sumptuous; such rich fabrics, wide skirts, and beautiful little winks at 21st-century updates. John Fowler’s hair design was fabulous, as well – special kudos for Powell and Galligan’s wigs, which were characters in themselves. Set designer Joe Fava made Celimene’s studio truly the place to be – luscious, wealthy and beautiful to behold.
What a show to close Schenectady Civic’s 90th season – it truly is a showcase of everything great in the theater, without a single misstep. A round of applause for everyone involved.
“The School for Lies,” Schenectady Civic Players, 12 South Church Street, Schenectady; through May 13; $20; Runtime: 2 hours, 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 382-2081; https://civicplayers.org/