Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The School for Lies

Any playwright who bases his protagonist on Alceste of Molière’s The Misanthrope, and goes on to name him Frank, courts greatness. In David Ives’s The School for Lies, playing through May 29 at the Classic Stage Company, Frank (Hamish Linklater) says things like “I’m the truest democrat on this earthly crust/ I treat everyone with equal disgust” and “Say what’s in your heart/ a woman wants your matter not your art.” And then there’s the line that gives the play its title, “Society is nothing but the school for lies.” The language further captures the spirit of Molière by being rendered in alexandrines.   Alceste is one of the great creations of World Theater, a character whose view of human duplicity is based upon a myopic selectivity. Suffice to say that Alceste’s world view is the direct opposite of Hume’s and Locke’s. His empiricism is based upon diseased perceptions mixed with a lust for perfection, in himself and others, that is eternally belied by the word “human,” though that is precisely what makes him both endearing and human. No philosopher of reason could have created Alceste, and Ives’s Frank is more Alceste than Alceste. However, there is a dramatic sleight of hand here that falls back on The Winter’s Tale and Superman. But it would be stupid to reveal that trick, since it would ruin everything for Screaming Pope readers who want to know who the real Frank is.

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