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Pittsburgh Irish & Classical's The School for Lies

Playwright David Ives is funnier than you and I combined, but the experiment sometimes drags.

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It's a cute idea: Take an English translation of The Misanthrope, by Molière, and make it "modern." Keep the 300-year-old plot and the powdered wigs, but add cell phones, text-speak and a beat-box. Then add the finishing touch — everything rhymes.

The School for Lies is a harmless re-creation by David Ives, comic playwright extraordinaire, best known for his one-act farces. Ives is one of the cleverest writers in America, a pleasant absurdist, and even when his plays don't rhyme, they seem blessed by Dr. Seuss. Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre often ends its season with a December comedy, and if you have a Zen-like patience, the Pittsburgh premiere of Lies should keep you chuckling for nearly three hours.

Frank (né François) is a cynical blowhard who wears only black. He is a guest of Celimene, a local socialite, and he proceeds to insult everyone around him. The gentleman Philinte, slighted, tricks Frank and Celimene into falling in love. Fool them once, shame on Philinte; fool them 23 times, and you've got a typical Molière play. Conceit follows conceit through to the final, ridiculous, twist.

Director Andrew Paul has assembled his regular cast of comic geniuses, a Who's Who of local favorites. Nike Doukas is feisty as Celimene, whose rapier wit lands her in legal trouble. As Frank, Leo Marks is effortlessly appealing, even when he's a jerk; the only problem with Marks, a PICT regular, is that he doesn't live in Pittsburgh year-round. Luckily for us, most of the cast does.

Like the original play, Lies takes considerable time to unfold. The rhymes are hypnotic, and although the cast performs with natural ease, the couplets are occasionally unheard, sometimes cringe-worthy, and often distracting. Meanwhile, Ives relies on the basest farcical tropes — the sex-obsessed girl, the shy bachelor, the usual potshots at cross-dressing, and the endless accusations of adultery and deceit. Ives' vision is three-quarters musketeer France, one-quarter Brooklyn, and the combination can be odd (like when one character exclaims "LOL!"). Ives is still funnier than you and I combined, but the experiment sometimes drags.

The unexpected scene-stealer is Matt DeCaro, who plays both a butler and coachman. His gags are silliest, but sometimes silly is best.

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