Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The School for Lies
Southwest Shakespeare Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Breona Conrad and Keath David Hall
Photo by Devon Christopher Adams
The School for Lies, by David Ives, is a delightful farcical romp through 17th-century France filled with witty banter, clever wordplay, and a healthy dose of irreverence. Southwest Shakespeare Company brings Ives' 90-minute, fast-paced adaptation of Molière's The Misanthrope to life in a well-cast production full of style and panache that features two rich, hilarious, and engaging performances by Breona Conrad and Keath David Hall.

Set against the backdrop of Paris in 1666, the play follows the exploits of Frank, a charmingly cynical misanthrope who despises the hypocrisy and pretentiousness of the social elite. However, when he meets Céliméne, a sharp-tongued widow known for her scathing wit, Frank finds himself drawn into a world of gossip, intrigue, and romantic entanglements. As their relationship unfolds, Frank must navigate a web of deceit and deception in order to win Céliméne's affections and expose the truth behind the facade of polite society. They both also must confront their own flaws and insecurities, ultimately learning valuable lessons about honesty, integrity and themselves.

Like Molière's classic comedy The Misanthrope, Ives' modern adaptation explores themes of hypocrisy and social satire in 17th-century France. Ives infuses his version with contemporary language, irreverent humor, and some exceptionally humorous rhymes, and both plays share a timeless appeal that offers a hilarious and thought-provoking look at love, truth, and the nature of human relationships.

At the center of the action is Frank, played with charismatic flair by Keath David Hall. With his razor-sharp wit and disdain for social niceties, Frank is a captivating character who commands the stage with his quick thinking and biting sarcasm. Hall has continued to present exceptional, fleshed-out performances in theatre productions across the valley and here he perfectly oozes power, passion, and an abundance of humor as Frank. Breona Conrad is equally good as the spirited and feisty Céliméne, in a portrayal that's equal parts charm and cunning. As the object of Frank's affection and the mastermind behind much of the play's intrigue, Céliméne is a force to be reckoned with. Conrad appears to be having a blast as her character effortlessly manipulates those around her while hiding her own secrets beneath her sophisticated exterior; the scene in which she presents mocking "portraits" of her friends and foes is truly inspired. Together, Hall and Conrad share a connection that's electric, realistic, and very funny; their verbal sparring matches crackle with tension and passion. They command the stage in larger-than-life performances that make you sit up and pay attention.

Surrounding Frank and Céliméne are a colorful cast of eccentric characters who contribute to the comedic chaos of the play. Shonda Royall is luminous as Eliante, Céliméne's kind-hearted cousin who finds herself entangled in the romantic schemes of others. Tim Shawver is warm and very funny as the flamboyant Philinte. Christine Ward is having a blast playing Arsinoë, Céliméne's friend and foe; their verbal cat fight, in which they call each other a non-stop stream of horrible names while adhering to the social etiquette of the times, is hilarious. Beau Heckman, David Lorello, and Chris Cook are very fun as the bumbling trio of foppish suitors out to win Céliméne's hand, while Jeff Deglow is appropriately broad as both Céliméne's frustrated servant Dubois and Frank's valet Basque.

The direction by David Ira Goldstein and Maren Maclean masterfully and seamlessly blends comedy and drama to create a fun and engaging production infused with irrerant wit and charm. The small Taliesin West venue provides a lovely intimacy for the production and, while the set design is minimal, the colorful, sumptuous period costumes by Hayley Larsen evoke the grandeur and opulence of 17th-century France along with many fun, contemporary touches. Lindsey Gardner-Penner also has created a very funny wig design that appears toward the end of the play.

With its stellar cast, expert direction, and sparkling script, The School for Lies at Southwest Shakespeare Company is a non-stop 90 minutes of wit, charm, deception, and razor-sharp comedy that evokes the glittering 17th century French world of gossip, glamour and scandal.

The School for Lies, presented by Southwest Shakespeare Company, runs through May 4, 2024, at Taliesin West, 12345 N Taliesin Drive, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-644-6500

Directors: David Ira Goldstein and Maren Maclean
Costume Designer: Hayley Larsen
Wig Designer: Lindsey Gardner-Penner
Hair Designer: Shelly Trujillo
Makeup Designer: Rachelle Dart
Sound Designer: Emmy Antillon
Props Designers: Dawn Conry
Lighting Designer: Marco Monacchio
Run Crew: Kelly Jones
Text/Dialect Coach: Amie Bjorklund
Director of Production: Stacey Walston
Production Stage Manager: Emmy Antillon
Assistant Production Manager: Beau Heckman
Wardrobe Supervisor: LeeAnn Jensen
Executive Director: Grant Mudge

Céliméne: Breona Conrad
Frank: Keath David Hall
Philinte: Tim Shawver
Arsinoë: Christine Ward
Eliante: Shonda Royall
Clitander: Beau Heckman
Oronte: David Lorello
Acaste: Chris Cook
Dubois/Basque: Jeff Deglow
Understudies: Tahni Delong, Hovig Artinian