School for Lies brings modern edge to Moliere

John Middleton and Kate Guentzel.

John Middleton and Kate Guentzel.

Doing Moliere -- even a modernized Moliere -- isn't an easy task for a cast of actors.

"It's almost like a circus act. It's hard and dangerous but a lot of fun to watch," says director Amy Rummenie, who is making her Park Square Theatre debut with The School for Lies, David Ives's adaptation of Moliere's The Misanthrope.

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The two main performers in this act are John Middleton and Kate Guentzel, playing Frank and Celimene. 

Middleton's first show in high school, in fact, was a Moliere: The Doctor in Spite of Himself. "I got to kiss a girl onstage and run around and have fun," he says.

The play centers on Frank, a caustic Englishman who visits the salon of Celimene, a young widow with a wit to match.

"I knew the basics of The Misanthrope. I hadn't heard of this adaptation, but I read it in bed and it had me cracking up," Rummenie says.

Ives retains much of the original work, including the famed rhyming couplets, but "Moliere wrote in a style that was classical and he has written a play that is more in the style of romanticism. It is still The Misanthrope, but he has transformed it," Rummenie says. "There is something cold about Moliere, and Ives has made it warm."

Design-wise, the production started with "two gigantic ornate doors and an even larger chandelier," Rummenie says.

From that, designer Robin McIntyre crafted an elegant, circular room that reflects the 17th-century setting of the play. "The circular room informed all of the things I have done, that includes a significant amount of 'dress' blocking," Rummenie says.

The costumes (from Susan E. Mickey) and wigs (by David Hermann) are spectacular, the cast members note, and they do add to the intensity of the evening.

"You need to be clear about what you are saying and to give the poetry its due," Middleton says. "Just sitting around and reading the script, you get exhausted. Just saying the words is physical, and then you put on an 80-pound wig."

That wig is for Guentzel to wear, and it provides just one of the shifts from her more typical theatrical work. "I don't have much experience doing classical work. I mainly do modern plays. It's a beast. Our characters talk a lot and it is all in rhyming couplets. You need the audience to understand," she says.


The School of Lies
Friday through February 2
Park Square Theatre

20 W. Seventh Pl., St. Paul

$38 and $58
For tickets and more information call 651.291.7005 or visit online.