Monday, September 15, 2014

Working Class Theatre NW School for Lies

Robert McConkey as Clitander, Mariesa Bus as Celimine and Luke Amundson as Frank. Photo by Kate Lick
I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so much as I did at Saturday night’s performance of David Ives’ School for Lies presented by the new fringe company Working Class Theatre NW. Wait, yes I can. It was the first time I saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). School for Lies has a lot in common with Shakespeare (Abridged) — the time period, the irreverent slapstick and word play, the language and poetry. But School is more intellectual and more biting — biting, naturally, because the source material is scathing satire.

April Nyquist as Eliante and Robert McConkey s Clitander. Photo by Kate Lick
Ives, perhaps most well known for the hit play Venus in Furs, has updated Moliere’s classic The Misanthrope with contemporary language, including reams of inventive cursing and even one monologue sung as a rap song. He mashes it all together with a mixture of Elizabethan and contemporary comedy. The writing is brilliant. Expect to be astonished at Ives’ dizzying explosion of puns, curses and alliteration spouted in rhyme. It is a scathing slap in the face of the upper classes disguised as a romantic comedy — a masterful mock on a master of comedy.
Working Class Theatre NW is a brand new company and the creation of two South Sound theater professionals, Tim Samland (producer and technical director of this show) and Christina Hughes (costume designer). School for Lies is their first show. It is being produced on a shoe-string budget. The only expense seems to have been on elaborate costumes, many of which I suspect came from thrift stores or were borrowed or cobbled together from scraps; and on the few pieces of ancient, beat-up and often-repaired furniture that Samland scavenged from his parents’ barn. I happen to know this because his parents sat behind me and his father told me so.
Since I’m talking about production values, I might as well mention the wigs and makeup, some of which are fabulous. Bruce Story-Camp as the arrogant poet Oronte sports a curly, long-haired wig and an upturned moustache, and he has a disgusting mole on his nose. It takes guts for a handsome man to make himself so ugly and Story-Camp does it unabashedly. As for handsome made ugly, that goes triple for Jenifer Rifenbery as the devious and flirtatious aristocrat Arsinoe. Rifenbery is a beauty who has successfully milked her looks to play sexpots such as Lily in Annie and the ditzy blonde who runs around in her underwear in Noises Off. In School for Lies she is absolutely hysterical. She is adorned in the clownishly garish makeup of an ageing whore with painted Cupid ’s bow lips. I was told by director Tom Sanders that Rifenbery designed her own makeup, and she gets points for doing it so well.
With little or no money spent on sets, props and (probably) costumes, the entire production rests on the script and the acting, both of which are marvelous.
Not all of the acting is top-notch, but the major characters are spot-on. This may be the best role ever (or yet) for Luke Amundson, who plays Frank, Ives’ version of the lead character in Moliere’s The Misanthrope. He definitely has the best lines, and he delivers them spectacularly, equally believable as a harsh and spite-filled cynic and as a man smitten by love. He doesn’t need fake beard or hair because his everyday beard and hair are perfect for the role.
Equaling Amundson in no-holds-barred acting is his love interest and antagonist Mariesa Bus as Celimine. Everyone is madly in love with Celimine — Frank, a trio of dunces including Oronte, Clitander (Robert McConkey) and Acaste, the Lord of Stupid (Ryan Cullitan), and possibly even her cousin Eliante (April Nyquist). Everyone, that is, but Frank’s cross-dressing friend Philinte (Bryan Bender) who is in love with Eliante. Celimine knows that practically every man in France longs for her, and she revels in it. And she matches Frank’s cynicism barb-for-barb. Great acting on the part of Bus.
A few random thoughts:
·         Words cannot express how adorable Nyquist is with her big eyes and long, fluttering lashes and a smile that lights up the world.
·         I lost count of how many times the tray of canapés goes flying through the air.
·         Few can resist calling Clitander Clitoris.
·         When Arsinoe lets loose with anger and frustration we see unadulterated, fearless acting at its finest; and the same holds true when Eliante aggressively tries to seduce Frank.
·         Speaking in rhyme can be disastrous if it is sing-song; it never is in this production.
·         Despite Clitander’s gay and foppish demeanor and Philinte’s cross dressing they are both, it seems, heterosexual. There is some question about Oronte as well.
·         And finally, it is a shame that audiences for risky, out-of-the-mainstream plays like this are so small. They should be able to do this at the Broadway Center and fill every seat – although there is some advantage to this smaller and more intimate space for this production.
·         The play is set in France 1666 but it is relevant to the U.S.A. in 2014.
Tickets are dirt cheap, by suggested donation only. I hope you will see this show and donate as much as you can to support such a worthy company.
Remaining performances September 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, and 27 at 8 p.m.
733 Commerce, Tacoma, 3rd floor ballroom. Suggested donation $10-$12.

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