Mamie Gummer Brings Streep DNA to Witty Comedy: Jeremy Gerard

Mamie Gummer, left, and Jenn Gambatese in "School for Lies" at the Classic Stage Company in New York. Photographer: Joan Marcus/O&M Co. via Bloomberg

Mamie Gummer merely has to point a critical finger or raise a skeptical eyebrow to send waves of recognition across the footlights to an audience. She is -- especially as she steadily improves her craft -- the image of her mother, Meryl Streep.

That’s reason enough to see this young actress in David Ives’s rowdy, proudly vulgar adaptation of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope.” Gowned to the teeth in William Ivey Long’s resplendent period gowns -- the lingo may be contemporary but the period is 17th-century Paris -- she tosses off Ives’s glinting, gauche couplets with consummate ease.

There are actual footlights at the Classic Stage Company’s jewel-box theater in downtown Manhattan. And little else in John Lee Beatty’s uncharacteristically spare set. A glittering chandelier (pure Moliere and pure CSC at once) and a tall armoire serving as desk and closet are pretty much it.

Gummer plays Celimene, the young, beautiful widow who is the undoing of the title character, a miserable, unhappy, verbal bully (he’s a drama critic, naturally) named Frank and played with ponyish glee by Hamish Linklater. Frank has come to visit his sole friend, Philante (the ideal sidekick, Hoon Lee) and immediately reduces everyone around him to wreckage.

Until, that is, he meets Gummer’s Celimene, the beautiful young widow and best friend of Philante’s intended, Elainte (Jenn Gambatese). Celimene parries Frank’s verbal thrusts and there are more plots than a Brooklyn cemetery, all of which must be tied up before the ending. But it’s a comedy after all, and you know what happens.

Walter Bobbie’s exuberant production looks and sounds a bit like a graduation class exercise: It’s a little too confident that its smarty-pants rhyming firecrackers from “comedy’s top mensch,” as the opening lines have it, will rule the day. But it’s good fun; Hoon, Gambetese and Alison Fraser, as Arsinoe, Celimene’s gossip-mongering nemesis, all get their scene-stealing arias. Be warned: If you’re sitting in the front row, watch out for flying canapes.

Through May 22 at 136 E. 13th St. Information: +1-212-352-3101; Rating: **1/2

What the Stars Mean:
****        Excellent
***         Very Good
**          Good
*           Not So Good
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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