Theatre Review by John Owen Glines
3.5 out of 4 stars
“You trust a fecalphile to judge your rose," is just one of the diamonds to be heard in what is a sonorous mine of verbal treasures. The Artistic Home's production of David Ives' The School for Lies is a comedy, in verse, based off a 17th century French play by Molière, Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope). Originally a comedy of manners, the play’s ‘translaptation’ carries its social satire into the modern age, and delivers well on its promise. It reminded me of the 1996 movie-remake of Shakespeare’s play, ‘Romeo + Juliet,’ except it didn’t suck.
Anyone acquainted with linguistics knows how impure Modern English is. Compared to languages such as Irish or French, English is seen as a mutt of Anglo-Saxon, German, French, Scandinavian, and a slew of others. It’s likely in part why English speakers afford such high-class to a language like French—and such snobbishness towards those who speak it. No wonder, then, that this play mocks its own origins. Nearly all players are dressed in ridiculous 1660’s outfits—befitting a hoity-toity aristocratic bunch. The play savages any and all who have ‘notions’: A high-class poet thinks his poems are great because his fecalphile, sycophantic friends adore them? A wealthy man with many lawyer friends thinks that those friendships grant him self-importance? Lies, which the protagonist (played wonderfully by Mark Pracht) is more than happy to cut through with savage snark and pessimism dark.
Beyond the plot, the set was well designed, if utilitarian; a desk and chair, a couch, a plush ottoman, and a liquor cart sufficed for the play. Drapes and chandeliers hung at and near every wall, with a bit of Greekish ornamentation to boot. Taken as a whole—along with the very Frenchy music—the play exuded a certain aristocratic veneer.
The acting itself was on point, with hardly a beat skipped. It’s easy to tell which plays afforded themselves enough time to get even the minute details down hard, and the interactions, mannerisms, and slapstick humor of every character was charmingly grand at worst. The fact that the story was not only well-written, but also had a fantastic twist, certainly added to it. And while there are more original plays, with more to say about the modern man and woman, The School for Lies nevertheless comments on our society in its own way. Some of the humor didn’t always seem to get the laughs it deserved, maybe in part due to its anachronistic foundation. Few plays besides Shakespeare source their material from this far back.
The School for Lies, directed by Kathy Scambiatterra, plays at The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand Avenue. Tickets ($28-32) are on sale through phone (866-811-4111) or online at theartistichome.org. The performance runs Thursdays at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm from July 6th to August 13th.
I've had the fortune of being born to a painter, and since childhood have been involved in the arts in some form or another. After attaining degrees in Music Performance and Cognitive Science from Northwestern University, and after being exposed to the wonderful theater scene there, I realized I'd benefit as an artist if I continued contributing to the community. I believe an important part to being an artist is having exposure to as many sorts of Art as possible. Theater is one of the most variegated arts, and I feel all the richer for playing the small role I have in the Chicago theater scene (hopefully, Chicago is all the richer for having me!)