Sunday, April 12, 2015

The School For Lies—theatrevertigo—SE Portland

“Oh, What a Web We Weave”

This modern updating of Moliére’s satirical comedy is by David Ives and directed by theatre veteran, JoAnn Johnson.  It’s playing at their space at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave. through May 9th.  For more information, go to their site at

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” it has been said.  Perhaps true, at least in the timing, for that is the crux of successful comedy.  And, add to that, to do the whole play in rhyme, as that’s asking for trouble.  (A movie that successfully did this was the musical, The Pied Piper… w/Van Johnson).  But, Have no fear, There is no curse, The play is done In perfect verse.

This must be an added burden for the actor, for he has no choice but to get the lines exact.  How would you adlib something in rhyme?  And now you must get the audience to accept a poetic proposition of prose and still have it retain a certain modicum of naturalism.  But in the deft hands of Johnson and a delightful cast, they do manage to pull it off in all its glory.

The story is slight, as are most comedies of this period, but it is not in the plot that these tales succeed but in the witty language and underlying swipes it takes at society, the law and politics.  Inevitably, they are about love, or to be more precise, lust.  And, looking at it closely, not much has changed in the past 350 years since the advent of the original play.  In other words, we may have progressed mightily in tangible advancements but only tripped haltingly in personal development.

In this story Celimene (Stephanie Cordell), an owner of a “salon” (racier definitions might apply) is having a bad day.  It seems that she has three suitors, the foppish, rich lawyer, Clitander (Heath Koerschgen); the mime-looking, bard, Oronte (R. David Wyllie); and the dense, toy-boy of hers, Acaste (Nathan Crosby); all demanding committed satisfaction from her, to one of them, after all the months of attention and monies they have lavished on her.  And it doesn’t help that she has an inept, clumsy servant, Dubois (Tyler Ryan), who only adds to the onstage confusion.

She also has a younger sister, Eliante (Shawna Nordman), whom nobody seems to care a fig for, although Philinte (Tom Mounsey), a rather serious young man, secretly has a crush on her.  And, too, she is being sued by, she suspects, her waggish friend, a notorious gossip, Arsinoe (Holly Wigmore)—a kissing cousin to the Wicked Witch of the West.  But this all comes to a head with the arrival of the mysterious Frank (Nathan Dunkin), a world traveler and a rather coarse and blunt individual.  Needless to say, Frank and Celimene connect like oil and water, which is to say, the makings of tumultuous love story.  To say more would spoil the fun.

Johnson does a terrific job of using an almost bare space to the actors’ advantage.  And the pacing is rapid-fire and physical gags abound.  Certainly not an easy show for predictable smooth sailing but with Johnson at the helm, the course is bound to be straight and true.  Also, I loved the lavender wallpaper (designers, Nathan Crosby & Noah Wesley Phillips).  And the costumes (designer, Casey Ballard) ranged from the truly authentic for the period to the modern and, for me, it worked, bridging the 300+ years.

There are some wonderful comic gags (a taste of vaudeville & silent films, perhaps) performed by Ryan and he’s a hoot.  Both Dunkin (always worth watching) and Cordell as the leads are well suited to be playing opposite each other.  It is a joy to watch their sparring.  Mounsey and Nordman as the young lovers give some depth to what could have been rather dull portrayals.  Wyllie and Crosby give us very distinct caricatures of the artist with no talent and the hunk with the wiles of a fox.  Wigmore is a tasty villain.  And Koerschgen is a stand-out, decked to the nines of a lord of that period and romping about the stage (and to think he played the dastardly Mr. Hyde not so long ago.  That’s acting at its best, folks).  And they all handle the flowery dialogue very nicely, thank you.

I do recommend this show but it is adult in language and subject matter.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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