HOW MANY LIARS can you fit inside a shoebox? That's the query Theatre Vertigo poses by staging David Ives' 2011 re-interpretation of Molière's The Misanthrope, The School for Lies, in their newish home—the aptly named, teeny-tiny Shoebox Theatre. At a sweltering Sunday matinee, I was surprised to find so many other audience members willing to commit to two hours of rhyming couplets in a small dark box, but pleasantly so!
Set (kind of?) in 1666 Paris, where friends and lovers are constantly enmeshed in legal battles over slander and libel, Lies is the tale of two snarky characters crossing paths in a gossip-laden salon: There's Celimene (Stephanie Cordell), a sharp-tongued aristocratic widow who's got every man in Paris writing her bad poems; and Frank (Nathan Dunkin). He's a new face in town, and listening to his brooding disdain for ordinary people is like getting baptized in a fountain of haterade. "Now life's a synonym for leisure!" he decries. "Who cares if we have cultural amnesia? Our daughters dress like whores, our sons are rude. These kids can't scratch their own initials, dude!"
Lies is also a disorienting arc of anachronisms, more a playful attempt at modernity from Ives than an intentional push by the cast, although the costuming is curious: Frank, for example, is fully clad in modern motorcycle wear (leather jacket, combat boots), in clashing contrast with everyone else, all dandy fop and powdered wigs. (Also, his name is FRANK—the only name changed from Molière's original character names.) Eliante (Shawna Nordman), Celimene's right-hand sycophant, boasts jelly bracelets and skater-girl shoes to signify youthful innocence. One character drops an "LOL!" and there's a fairly cringe-worthy rap battle. (I later found out it's in the script... the cast did the best they could.)
While the entire ensemble does remarkable work with a script that's an hours-long poem, the central romance takes the lead. Cordell is undeniably luminous as tempestuous Celimene, dragging around one mesh-shirted admirer on a dog leash ("She's single-malt, she's rain, she's rock 'n' roll"). Dunkin plays Frank with the focused ferocity of a coked-out Bukowski rampage. Farcical chaos ensues as their romance blooms through lawsuits, lies, and the greedy meddling of evil-eyebrowed frenemy Arsinoe (Holly Wigmore, as a 1600s Cruella de Vil, basically).
As ensemble member Tom Mounsey (Philinte) told me, "We usually do a lot of dark comedies, so doing something lighter and goofier is appropriately refreshing to have during all this April sun." If you're looking for groundbreaking cultural commentary, this ain't your stop, but if you're down for a lighthearted, mostly funny farce with hors d'œuvres-throwing and insult-slinging to take your mind out of the gutter and/or news, Lies is a fun and rigidly produced romp worth a look.