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Theater review: "School for Lies," 3 stars

School for Lies

School for Lies

School for Lies
3 stars

Moliere's classic verse comedy "The Misanthrope" - about an eccentric, sardonic rebel whose refusal to condone society's hypocritical ways leads to his downfall - can't really be improved upon.

But that didn't stop playwright David Ives and director Walter Bobbie, who previously worked on the classically inspired dramas "Venus in Fur" and "New Jerusalem," from coming up with their own version.

"The School for Lies" goes beyond being just a contemporary American translation of "The Misanthrope" by playing fast and loose with the plot and adding new bits of physical comedy. While the end result might not be a classic, it makes for a marvelously funny screwball comedy that is riotously performed.

In addition to changing the protagonist's name from Alceste to Frank (Hamish Linklater), Ives and Bobie have added new plot twists involving lawsuits for slander against Frank's crush Celimene (Mamie Gummer) and numerous rumors, including ones saying that Frank is of royal blood and that his pal Philante (Hoon Lee) has a fondness for cross-dressing.

One of the most amusing devices involves a servant whose small tray of appetizers is constantly knocked over by other characters during fits of passion, much to the servant's frustration. Linklater, best known for the television series "The New Adventures of Old Christine," rips through the role of Frank with unbridled passion and clowning that reaches almost hysterical heights.

Unfortunately, Gummer is noticeably out of place as Celimene, lacking the hard, imposing quality necessary to pull off the role. But musical theater veterans Alison Fraser and Jenn Gambatese stand out in their supporting roles.

The design of the production is gorgeous, with the cast in elaborate period costumes against a bare white stage.

On stage: "The School for Lies" plays at Classic Stage Company through May 22. 136 E. 13th St., 212-352-3101,

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