The School for Lies: Twits on parade

John Middleton and Kate Guentzel.

John Middleton and Kate Guentzel.

At times bawdy, insightful, and romantic, Park Square Theatre's The School for Lies is a perfect antidote to the unending and dull blanket of white snow and frozen air that dominates the Minnesota winter landscape.

There's more than enough heat onstage -- including David Ives's clever riffing on Moliere, the talented acting company, and Amy Rummenie's decisive directing -- to melt an iceberg, let alone the chill of St. Paul in January.

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Ives, the author of Venus in Fur (which provided heat last winter at the Jungle) and numerous short plays, uses Moliere's The Misantrhope as a foundation here, running the story through another classic playwright (Shakespeare) and adding modern slang and context to the rhyming couplets.

The play satirizes upper-class life in 17th-century Paris, which isn't all that different from life in America in the 21st century. The idle folks gossip endlessly, which can cause a problem because its also a society that sues others for slander at the drop of a hat.

Set over one long and active day, the show centers on Celimene (Kate Guentzel), whose position is threatened by a slander suit brought by a rival. She has a trio of suitors ready for the 1666 Twit of the Year contest and a confidant secretly in love with her cousin, Eliante.

Into this steps Frank (John Middleton), a, ahem, frank talker decked out all in black. He's caustic and honest to a fault, which instantly puts him into conflict with the denizens of Paris.

Ives mines plenty of humor out of the situation, and the game cast is ready for all of the challenges from the script. The company mines the situation for all of the humor within, be it in the deft word play carried by Guentzel and Middleton, the exaggerated mincing and strutting of the suitors (David Beukema, Brandon Bruce, and John Catron) or the weary mood of the observing servant (Skyler Nowinski, playing a pair of similar roles).

The production looks gorgeous, starting with Robin McIntyre's elegant set, moving to Susan E. Mickey's exaggerated costumes, and ending with David Hermann's massive wigs. Rummenie keeps the pace tight, but never so fast that it is hard to follow, and the final twists at the end feel like a natural, if somewhat Shakespearean, conclusion.


The School of Lies
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.