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Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's 'School for Lies' is witty break from holiday sentiment

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 8:53 p.m.
Celimene (Nike Doukas) and Frank (Leo Marks) in 'School for Lies' at the Charity Randall Theatre in Oakland Sunday, November 25, 2012. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

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For those already experiencing sensory overload from seasonal celebrations, amusements and sales promotions, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre offers an alternate diversion.

There's nary a hint of holly nor a bough of tinsel-bedecked pine to be found anywhere at “The School for Lies,” which opened Saturday in the Charity Randall Theatre in Oakland.

Instead, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre is gifting us with David Ives' very free adaptation of Moliere's classic French satire, “The Misanthrope.”

It's a neatly packaged production whose chief strengths are Ives' witty, inventive and intelligent way with words and a highly animated and talented cast.

Ives follows the outlines of Moliere's original 17th-century comedy about the pretensions and posturing of aristocrats as they flatter, undermine, sue and woo in the drawing room of the recently widowed Celimene.

Frank, a new arrival at Celimene's salon, destabilizes the balance of power with his resolve to tell nothing but the truth, no matter the cost. “Society is nothing but a school for lies,” he opines. “I treat all men with uniform disgust.”

As Frank and Celimene, Leo Marks and Nike Doukas make a merry couple who engage in clever banter and verbal sparring similar to that of Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare's “Much Ado About Nothing.” Married in real life, they're deft at engaging each other as mental duelists while transmitting a current of sexual tension.

They're also deft at speaking Ives' complexly conceived verbal cleverness.

Ives wrote much of the dialogue in couplets that display his ability for rhymes, such as myopia and utopia, that still sound conversational rather than forced.

They're supported by a cast of equally gifted actors who bring depth and interest to their characters.

As Philinte, Joel Ripka opens the proceedings with a well-spoken, funny prologue that sets the ground rules for the evening — a comedy definitely set in the 17th century that also gives a nod to the 21st century.

Costume designer Joan Markert notes the connection to past and present with outfits that bridge the divide between classic and contemporary.

Robin Abramson appears as the youthful Eliante, who complicates everyone's amorous adventures. Martin Giles, James FitzGerald and Ben Blazer mine the humor as Celimene's self-impressed suitors. Most notable is Giles as the proud author declaiming his incredibly bad poem.

Helena Ruoti enters late into the proceedings to give a hilarious and forceful performance as a frowsy, duplicitous and libidinous society matron. Matt DeCaro does double duty as he switches characters as two distinctly individual servants.

In the end, everyone's lies, posturing and secrets are revealed, lovers are appropriately matched, and all the loose ends are dramatically and humorously tied up.

Scenic designer Gianni Downs creates a classically spare and restrained setting with bright blue walls and a curving formal staircase that offers opportunities for everyone to shine.

The show's one fault was that on opening night the production felt about two performances short of a production. That's easily remedied by practice, which should aid some bits of physical comedy to become less deliberate and more natural.

Those looking for a respite from holiday hoopla should find it a welcome entertainment.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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