The cast of “Secrets and Lies” (Thomas Kimble/TK Photography)
As the multi-faceted city-wide cultural celebration in honor of the playwright Molière’s 400th birthday draws to a close, KC Melting Pot Theatre has mounted a new contemporary adaptation of “Sganarelle,” or “The Imaginary Cuckold.” Written and directed by KCMPT’s Artistic Director, Dr. Nicole Hodges Persley, “Secrets and Lies” has plenty of laughs but ultimately falls far short of its clever premise.
Hodges Persley makes creative use of Molière’s presentational style by framing “Secrets and Lies” as a play within a play—or, more accurately, a “scripted reality show” within a play, a genre that serves as the perfect platform for over-the-top farce. The play (or rather, the show within the play) is a classic case of mistaken identities. Ivy League grad Celine (Brittany Evans) is in love with Instagram model Leo (Daniel André), but her father has already decided she’s going to marry their wealthy neighbor. Celine becomes so upset at the idea of giving up the love of her life that she faints in the courtyard of her family’s vacation resort and when fellow guest Relle (Paul Jones, who also plays Celine’s father, making for some confusing transitions) tries to assist her, his wife Donatella (Amber Redmond) comes across the scene and thinks she sees them having an affair. As revenge, she pursues Leo, who’s also vacationing in the same spot.
The premise is ridiculous, which is the point. And even more ludicrous than Molière’s original plot is the idea that the producers and director within the world of this play thought it would be a reasonable foundation for a reality show, and specifically one featuring an entirely Black cast. By far, the most engaging part of the play is when the “actors” take a break from shooting to discuss how preposterous that is and how it reflects larger issues of systemic racism in television and film.
But while that scene (which comes after an exceptionally long first act) offers cutting commentary, essentially its entire point is to dissect how the play itself doesn’t work. And unfortunately, it’s not wrong. The play seems to be a scene-for-scene—if not nearly line-for-line—adaptation of Molière’s original when the inventive premise could have been much better served by a looser structure. As is, the show feels lost within itself, bloated with far too much unnecessary baggage and stumbling into its more enjoyable moments.
Still, this production was a big, ambitious swing. They might not all have fit together perfectly, but there are some unique, incisive, and genuinely funny pieces here.
“Secrets and Lies,” a production of KC Melting Pot, runs through June 11 at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central. For more information, call 816-226-8087 or visit www.kcmeltingpot.com.