SCHENECTADY — Schenectady Civic Players is closing out its 90th season with “The School for Lies,” a humdinger of a play. It’s Moliere as channeled by playwright David Ives, and the production brilliantly bangs out the wit and wisdom inherent in both plays.
Moliere’s “The Misanthrope” is the basis for Ives’s take on 17th-century French upper-class society, though, of course, Ives throws in contemporary references and language to remind us that plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
At the heart of the story is Celimene (Jennifer Lefsyk), a well-to-do widow in a pickle. There’s a court case against her, and she’s trying to figure out how to get off. She’s being pursued by three wealthy, self-aggrandizing dimwits: Clitander (David Rook), Oronte (Rich Angehr), and Acaste (Aileem Penn), each of whom pronounces his own doom by overstating his particularly meager talent.
Celimene keeps them at bay, not yet sure how she might need them.
Onto the scene comes Frank (Jason Biszick), a plain-speaking guy who abjures the niceties of polite conversation. For him, saying something that isn’t true is a waste of time, particularly when those who affect to speak kindly of someone to his/her face backstab that very person. Hypocrisy: He’ll have none of it!
Others caught up in the proceedings are Frank’s thoughtful friend, Philinte (Nick Bosanko) and Philinte’s would-be paramour, Eliante (Angelique Powell); Arsinoe (Nicolle Galligan), whose self-serving behavior reminds one of the expression “With friends like her, who needs enemies?”; and Dubois & Basque, two amusing servants who throw into relief the childish behavior of the upper class, both played with spot-on timing by Jean T. Carney.
Ives’ ending is not like Moliere’s; it’s funnier.
This production is a feast for the eyes, thanks to a sublimely detailed set by Joseph Fava, colorful costumes by Beth Ruman, and hair design by John Fowler. On the empty heads of these flouters and flouncers sit silly concoctions of waves and curls.
Donald Mealy’s lighting design, Jason LaSusa’s stage management, and Amy Lane’s production oversight also complement the superb performances.
Each of the aforementioned dimwits gets a moment in the spotlight, and the actors rise to the occasion. Galligan’s Arsinoe amusingly sows discord wherever she goes.
Powell credibly shades her character’s various emotions. In a play of rather monochromatic personalities, Powell creates a little pathos in Eliante’s search for true love.
Bosanko gets the evening off to a strong start by addressing the audience and physically commanding the stage. A cross-dressing scene later in the proceedings reveals Bosanko to be a delicious comic actor.
Lefsyk perfectly calibrates Celimene’s emotional journey. Though she’s still a poisonous gossip, she nevertheless reveals uncertainty about her future and sorrow at the memory of her dead husband, Alceste.
And Biszick’s Frank is an interesting sort. On the one hand he makes us believe that always being honest, no matter the effect on the hearer, is better than risking hypocrisy; on the other hand, can society function with such candor? Biszick dispenses this philosophy confidently and then also shows Frank’s vulnerable side. It’s a tremendously physical performance.
Oh, and the director of this marvelous mayhem is Chris Foster, who has helped the cast negotiate the rhymed couplets, the iambic pentameter, and the all-important enjambment, which keeps the poetry conversational. The whole production is superbly paced.
‘The School for Lies’
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St.
WHEN: Through May 13
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: 518- 382-2081, or civicplayers.org