If hypocrisy and shallowness have you rolling your eyes internally on a daily basis, you’re not alone. In School for Lies, a modern adaptation of Molière’s play Le Misanthrope, characters find their own humorous ways to cope with a superficial society. This summer, playwright David Ives and Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn present a local production of the French classic, at Lansburgh Theatre through July 9.
Set in aristocratic France, the play tells the story of Frank (Gregory Wooddell), a blunt truthteller navigating a shallow society he can’t stand. In addition to the modern upgrades, Ives’ new adaptation has another unique feature: the entire play is written in rhyming couplets.
Although this may seem daunting to some actors, leading lady Victoria Frings, who plays Frank’s sassy love interest, Celimene, said it actually helped her memorize her lines. The rhymes, which come at a quick pace, might even seem jarring to the audience at first. But once the show gets going, it’s a journey worth taking. Although it moves quickly and Ives occasionally uses strange vocabulary, there are moments when the audience can guess what the next rhyme is going to be.
“There’s a kind of give-and-take dance, and I think this play lets audience members start to fill in some of the rhymes as it goes,” Frings says. “There’s something kind of fulfilling about that, especially when it’s set up really well.”
But the rhyme scheme does more than just keep the audience on their toes. According to Wooddell, the rhyming solidifies the sense of spectatorship.
“You already have this world established, just in terms of how these people relate to each other and how they speak,” he says. “But it’s just joy for the audience to be able to hear the brilliance of David Ives’ writing and rhyming couplets. I think the audience really gets a kick out of hearing the language for an hour and a half.”
Even once the audience gets used to the rhyming dialogue, School for Lies offers two profound main characters, each with their own lessons to impart. The brutally honest Frank demonstrates that honesty is a virtue, and sometimes the urge to tell it like it is can be a good thing.
“That’s why the audience relates to his character,” Wooddell says. “We all feel these things. We live in a society that has a certain structure to it that you may or may not buy into or believe in, but we all find a certain level of ridiculousness in it. And it’s liberating to be able to voice that every evening. To call it what it is, is quite freeing.”
Frank’s love interest, however, expresses her disdain in quite a different way. Celimene is also notorious for telling it how it is – but only behind people’s backs. In addition to making fun of people that way, Celimene also takes jabs at surrounding characters, but quickly covers them up with niceties. As a high society widow without her own means, she uses her social grace and flirtatiousness to attain money and material from male suitors.
“She is witty, fun and secretly disdains everyone around her in this world that she has to blend into because she knows that it’s ugly [and] she knows that she’s smarter than everyone in the room,” Frings says. “But I think she also enjoys herself, or she at least does what she does in order to enjoy herself.”
Catch School for Lies at Lansburgh Theatre, now through July 9. Tickets start at $44 and can be purchased from www.shakespearetheater.org.
Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org