Classic Stage Company
East 13th St.
A Review by Deirdre Donovan
Runs Jan 11 – Feb 26, 2017
Lies, lies, and more lies! No this is not a reference to what’s happening on our current political front but about the fictive Dorance, the charming protagonist and habitual liar in David Ives’ new comedy The Liar. Directed by Michael Kahn, and loosely based on Pierre Corneille’s 17th Century farce Le Menteur (1643), this new work is one loopy laugh-fest that can chase away the mid-winter blues.
Ives has brilliantly reimagined this little-known classic to suit contemporary eyes and ears. Ives remains true to the spirit of the original but puts his own zany stamp on it, using rhymed iambic pentameter to make his play sing. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing on the audience’s collective ear but it also gives a ready linguistic handle to the cast, who deliciously deliver Ives’ verse “trippingly on the tongue.”
Here’s the story: Set in 17th century Paris, we meet the cad Dorante who lies each time he speaks, and his servant Cliton who tells nothing but the truth. Complications arise when the beautiful Clarise materializes on the scene, along with her best friend Lucrece. Dorante is immediately smitten with Clarice, who’s already engaged to Alcippe. When Alcippe arrives shortly after, it creates all sorts of problems for Dorante and Clarice. Things heat up even more as a masquerade begins, where true and false lovers collide and learn secrets about each other. To reveal more of the story would spoil it for future theatergoers. But suffice it to say that sifting the truth from the lies isn’t easy here.
Ives is no stranger to the CSC. This is his sixth production at the venue. Of course, his most notable one was Venus in Fur, which was an instant hit--and eventually winged its way to Broadway.
While his Venus in Fur is tough to outdo, Ives succeeds with The Liar by allowing himself to take ample poetic license from Corneille’s text. Although Corneille may be rolling over in his grave, Ives, who is second-to-none when it comes to jesting, boldly retools Corneille’s play. All the courting, masquerades, and dalliances that the French playwright penned remain in spirit but The Liar clearly has Ives’ signature. Ives weaves in double entendres, our contemporary idiom, and dollops of Shakespeare’s wit to boot. No stuffy period piece, this! The Liar is an exhilarating romp through romantic love where few characters are what they seem, or who they profess to be.
The acting ensemble is superb. Christian Conn (his name seems downright prophetic for his current role) plays Dorance with panache and sparkling wit. Carson Elrod, as Cliton, couldn’t be better as his truth-telling servant. Ismenia Mendes inhabits Clarice with the coyness of a young woman who knows that men can’t resist her. Amelia Pedlow, as Lucrece, is well-cast in her Sphinx-like role. Kelly Hutchinson is just right in her Jekyll-and-Hyde parts as the servants Isabelle and Sabine. Rounding out the able cast are Aubrey Deeker, as Alcippe’s friend Philiste, and Adam Lefevre, as Dorance’s father Geronte.
The production values are solid. Alexander Dodge’s set, combined with Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting, is attractively quaint but never upstages the action. Murrell Horton’s scrumptious costumes are just right for these high-society types and the wannabes who hob-nob in the beau monde. J. Jared Janas’ wigs serve as a clear reminder that we have time-traveled back to the 17th Century. And Adam Wernick’s original music perfumes the play with romantic airs.
Okay, it’s fun to follow the tomfoolery here. But Ives also seems intent on raising a serious question during the goings-on: Which character in the play is the genuine liar? Of course, it’s easy to identify Dorance as the fabricator par excellence, since he spins yarns galore from the moment he makes his first entrance. But if one scratches beneath the play’s surface, almost all the characters are lying at one point or another in given episodes. In fact, the larger truth tucked into the heart of this play is that human beings are extremely prone—and guilty—of lying. And who can argue with that truth?
Those of us who have longed for a rib-tickling comedy about love can take heart that The Liar has arrived at the CSC. As helmed by Kahn, it is smart, saucy, and irresistible.
Through February 26th.
At the Classic Stage Company, East 13th Street, East Village.
For more information and tickets, phone 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.classicstage.org/.
Running Time: 2 hours; 10 minutes with one intermission.