This fall semester, the Owl and Nightingale Players at Gettysburg College are presenting free performances of The School for Lies, a work by David Ives. This is a satirical take on Moliere’s The Misanthrope, written in 1666. The School for Lies takes place in Paris 1666. Specifically, it’s set in the salon of Celimene (Camila Seluja), a witty woman who wears her widow’s weeds only in her heart. Now, I’ll try to convey as much information as I can without too many spoilers!
This show explores the damage that rumors can do and how they can grow. It all starts innocently as Frank (Andrew Cowan), the crass and truthful visitor, starts the rumor that his friend Philinte (Christian Boor) likes to wear women’s dresses in an attempt to get his friend to admit that he would see a friend who spread such a rumor with loathing. The entire demonstration quickly spirals out of control as people put their own social wellbeing ahead of any empathy or sympathy for their fellow humans. As soon as a character starts to feel attacked, they each default to defending themselves by debasing and insulting their fellows. They each use manipulation to get what they want, using lies, the pretence of values, and insults to turn the others against their current target as even those who preach to say true to oneself start to change for the affections of the people who can help them achieve their goals.
It is obvious from the first entrance that this is a satire, which means that there are some offensive concepts. But the entire thing is so overplayed that it truly succeeds in portraying the absurdity of the ideas. With everything from sex-obsessed men with the ideal of the perfect women who will belong only to him to the surge of court cases stemming from a simple insult, there is no shortage of criticism. Frank describes it all in the beginning when he says, “Society is nothing but a school for lies.”
Still, there are times when the play feels almost too real, for example, when Celimene is forcing a smile and searching for a distraction as three men use her upcoming court case as leverage for why she should marry him, or when Arsinoe (Sarah Appedu) throws insult after insult under the pretense of reporting gossip instead of spreading it. Or when Celimene refuses to give up her way of life or sex for the offers of a man who keeps insisting they have sex before he helps her and labeling that as “love.” Moments like these really hit close to home and give the audience the sense that these problems really should be addressed.
Yet, personally, I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time. The seriousness and criticisms are perfectly balanced out with the wit and wordplay of the show, which is presented in a more modern Shakespearean style but with more rhyming. Not to mention the various nods to modern times with everything from modern curses to a character rapping while doing impersonations. I swear that there was at least one instance where I was completely curled over in my seat from laughter. Not to mention the numerous gags that should be stupid but work with the absurdity of the show. I highly recommend watching the background characters. Everyone is just so talented and never standing still. I must admit that my favorite characters have to be Bubois and Basque (Haley Barnes). She plays some of the funniest characters, but I won’t spoil the surprise!
All of this happens with the backdrop of Buzz Jones’ amazing, original composition. A small band sits in the corner of the audience and adds another level of awesome to the show. There isn’t really any way to summarize the music simply. It’s just a huge mix of everything from classical to jazz with even some rock thrown in. Hearing this talented band while the lights slowly dim really made the start of show magical.
To experience this magic, stop by Kline theater October 27th, 28th, and 30th at 7:30PM or the 29th at 2PM for 105 minutes of fun! Remember, to call (717) 337-6060 to reserve your free tickets for Friday and Saturday performances to make sure you’ll get a seat!
Cover Image via Pixabay