By David Ives
Directed by Michael Kahn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Adapted from the play “Le Menteur” by Pierre Corneille, David Ives’s “The Liar” currently running at Classic Stage Company is a superb farce replete with delightful stereotyped characters caught up in hilarious exaggerated situations. “The Liar” lands on stage at the perfect time and reminds theatre goers of the enduring importance of vaudeville in times of political upheaval.
After a first act brimming with exposition, the second act of “The Liar” assembles the puzzle pieces of the situations introduced earlier. There are mistaken identities, two sets of twins, onstage duels, garden trysts with a Cyrnao tableaux, love matches gained and lost, liars morphing into truthtellers, one committed to the truth learning to lie. And there is an ending far superior to Corneille’s original dissolution.
Episodic in nature (rather than character driven), “The Liar” focuses on the ne’re-do-well Dorante (Christian Conn) who excels at prevarication and exaggeration and upon his arrival in Paris, engages the “Servant for Hire” Cliton (Carson Elrod) to explore the city and its eligible young women. In the traditional style of the farce, several improbable but extremely funny scenarios are added to the delicious matrix of mayhem and madness. Donate’s father Geronte (played with a charismatic gravitas by Adam Lefevre) arrives to arrange a marriage for his son. Durante (having already been smitten by Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow) – or perhaps it was Clarice (Ismenia Mendes) – claims he cannot allow his father to arrange the marriage since he is already married to one Orphise.
Matters get more complicated with the arrival of Dorante’s friend Alcippe (played with the perfect balance of panache and languor by Tony Roach) who thinks Dorante has had a tryst with Clarice (mistaken identity and prevarication abound!). This is only one thread in “The Liar.” Cliton falls for Isabelle who has a twin Sabine (both played with priceless comedic timing by Kelly Hutchinson) who feels nothing for Cliton. And there’s Alcippe’s friend Philiste (played with foppish charm by Aubrey Deeker) who’s also on the prowl. It just gets better and better every minute of the two-hour extravaganza. Watch for delightful anachronisms and clever literary allusions.
David Ives earns his wordsmith accolades in this ‘translaptation’ (a translation with a heavy dose of adaptation per Mr. Ives) of the 1644 “Le Mentuer.” His decision to “translate” in rhythm (pentameter) and rhyme drives the piece forward with joyous energy. The rhymes, sometimes quite interesting, add to the linguistic feast.
The cast is uniformly impressive. Carson Elrod’s jester-esque Cliton is the perfect foil to Christian Conn’s fulsome Dorante. Mr. Elrod delivers his pentameter with unquavering crispness giving his lines the most natural rhythm of speech. Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow as Clarice and Lucrece respectively make mistaken identity look like a parlor game. Their vacillation between keen interest in their suitors and utter disdain for all things male is engaging and priceless.
Director Michael Kahn keeps the energetic cast moving at break-neck speed appropriate to the farce. Alexander Dodge’s set design is simple and functional with ample opportunities for quick entrances and exits. Murell Horton’s period costumes are exquisite and Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting is appropriate.
Dorante’s closing monologue sums up the exercise succinctly, “But think, before you hit the subway booth,/How this was all a lie – and yet the truth./Impossible? Don’t hurt your spinning head./Just hie thee happily home and lie – in bed!”