Centuries from now, it will make a great trick question on someone’s PhD oral examination in English literature: What is the greatest farce by a 21st-century American playwright? The correct answer? David Ives’s The School for Lies, a loose “translaptation” (the playwright’s word) of Molière’s 17th-century masterpiece The Misanthrope. Like Alexander Pope with Homer’s Iliad before him, Ives takes hold of a certified classic from another language, and, through the sheer exuberance of his facility with iambic pentameter rhyming couplets, he reshapes it into something entirely his own. When The School for Lies opens Ensemble Theatre Company’s (ETC) season at the New Vic this weekend, it will offer two plays in one: an authentic representation of Moliere’s strikingly modern 17th-century worldview and a hilarious satire on the crazy cultural moment we live in right now.
For Jonathan Fox, artistic director of ETC and the director of this production, the show’s themes are both newly relevant and perennial. “When you see Rudy Giuliani on television saying that truth isn’t truth,” according to Fox, then you know “why a play called The School for Lies matters today.” On the other hand, “it could be human nature in all eras for society to create the sense that to get ahead in life you have to lie.”
Frank (Adam Mondschein) has just returned from a stay in England, and his newly acquired habit of telling the truth about everyone and everything quickly renders him a target for both love and envy. It’s only when he falls for Celimene (Jill Van Velzer) that his haughty façade begins to slip. Mondschein sees this as a function of the way that “love makes idiots of us all,” and as part of a larger pattern in which Celimene and Frank “share the wheel” in driving the play’s frenetic plot to its fantastically absurd yet strangely compelling conclusion. “At the end of the day, I want our audiences to laugh,” said Fox, and, given this cast and Ives’s dazzling script, that’s a certainty.
The School for Lies will play at Ensemble Theatre Company’s New Vic (33 W. Victoria St.) Thursday, October 4-Sunday, October 21. Visit etcsb.org or call 965-5400.