Kelsey holds a BFA in Theatre Studies and a BS in Cinema/Media Studies from the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. She’s a freelance dramaturg, most recently working with Circle Theatre’s Venus in Fur. Kelsey believes in theater’s ability to change the world. A mix of wit and lit.
L-R: Todd Wojcik, Ted James, Annie Hogan, Averis I. Anderson. Photo by Joe Mazza/ Brave Lux Photography.
By Kelsey McGrath
THE SCHOOL FOR LIES is an acrobatic text. Playwright David Ives’ words tumble from the players and the page like gymnasts, culminating in a farcical, freewheeling romp. The Artistic Home’s current production of this adaptation maintains a courageous energy, stumbles at the dismount, but manages to stick the landing.
The trick with this text is the slipperiness of the words; Ives pens the entire play in iambic pentameter, weaving between modern and archaic vernacular. With any rhythmic text, reconfiguring its cadence is necessary for naturalistic storytelling. This period comedy adaptation of Molière’s “The Misanthrope” lends itself to the trap of farcical slapstick. Thoughtfully navigating the absurdity of the words and action while maintaining a relatable humanity is any company’s challenge. Here is where The Artistic Home got messy — it seemed as though the players were showing us how much fun they were having instead of having fun and letting us in. The intention behind the creation of characters seemed imbalanced. This text lends itself to “playing a character,” and a number of principles did. They fell into a period comedy trap, adopting archetype speech and physical patterns instead believing in themselves as their role.
However, an overwhelming proportion of the cast was rooted in honesty and believability. They were able to personalize their roles in larger than life ways. We believed them and their rage and their quirks and their love. Both Julian Hester and Brookelyn Hebert deserve accolades for their work. It was fun to watch them play and demand so much from themselves and others. The cast as a whole engaged in risky physical choices that brought the text to life. In such a small space, their effort (and sweat) made the work wild.
To further the uncertainty, moments of intentional anachronisms landed us in a twilight zone of a 1666 parlor room. Style inconsistencies were present in both set and costume design; we never really knew the rules of the space. If the effort was to place us in a surreal space, neither design component fleshed out this vision completely. The show’s program placed us in 1666, but I was skeptical with the zebra patterned bar and matching candles. There were also moments of “gossip” in the show that were heightened by way of rapping and beat drops, but this choice didn’t really resonate with the audience. There were a couple of moments like this, but we never revisited that out of body experience. It seemed as though there were too many tantalizing options to pass up, which resulted in entertaining incongruence.
The Artistic Home’s THE SCHOOL FOR LIES is a messy romp that engages the audience through witty dialogue and energetic players. The actual 17th century France has nothing on this bold little show.