Over four hundred years old and still fresh and funny!
By Joel Benjamin
David Ives (Venus in Fur, New Jerusalem) has breathed new life into Pierre Corneille’s Le Menteur, a wacky seventeenth century comedy of errors. A game, stylish cast under the direction of Michael Kahn zips commandingly through Ives’ iambic pentameter couplets which echo the original French while also making zippy use of modern English. The Liar at the Classic Stage Company is as fresh today, in Ives’ literate, witty retake, as it must have been in 1644.
The title character, Dorante (a handsome, bombastic Christian Conn) is unable to tell the truth. (Alternative facts?) As luck would have it he takes on a servant/guide, Cliton (rubber faced, totally marvelous Carson Elrod) who cannot lie. One of the pleasures of this production is waiting for Cliton’s head to explode every time Dorante lets yet one more lie fall trippingly from his tongue. Along with ludicrously funny plot twists, the Dorante/Cliton partnership in the catalyst for many belly laughs and jaw-dropping switcheroos (long-lost sibling, anyone?).
When Dorante meets two lovely ladies—Clarice (Ismenia Mended, combining a ditzy personality with beauty) and Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow, who gives a sly, wonderfully goofy performance)—while wandering in the Tuileries his lying goes into high gear, regaling them with tales of his adventures—all baloney, of course. Dorante falls for Clarice, but the two saucy ladies play a trick on him and exchange names. Because of this playful lie, Dorante believes it’s Lucrece he loves which leads him and the entire cast down multiple paths of mistaken identity and divinely silly duels.
The path of romance is never runs smoothly. Alcippe (Tony Roach in wide-eyed Three Musketeers mode) comes to town to see his fiancée, Clarice, whom he sees flirting with his old buddy, Dorante, leading him to challenge him to a duel. Adding to the complications is Dorante’s dad, Geronte (a stylishly blustering Adam LeFevre) who wants Dorante to marry Clarice. (Whew!)
Philiste (a dapper, level-head Aubrey Deeker) is a friend to both Alcippe and Dorante. His brain is overworked trying to understand what his two pals are up to.
Although the entire cast acquits themselves well, the acting honors for this production belong to Kelly Hutchinson, who takes on the “twins,” Isabelle and Sabine, maids to Clarice and Lucrece. Ms. Hutchinson’s quicksilver morphing from flirtatious Isabelle to sourpuss Sabine is a highlight of the last few minutes of the play. Without changing anything about her—makeup, wig, costume—she becomes the two ladies in quick succession. Cliton is in love with the sweet Isabelle, but has no idea that she has a twin, leading to even more head-spinning merriment.
The Liar not only evokes Shakespeare (Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night in particular), but Ives cheekily keeps injecting quotes from his plays all the while daring the audience to chuckle at his wit.
Alexander Dodge’s set—a wall full of doors and windows, a painted floor, outdoor benches, potted plants, etc.—subtly, artfully evoked the seventeenth century while Murell Horton’s brilliant costumes gave the actors much to work with. The hair stylings/wigs of J. Jared Janas were indispensible to the characterizations, too. Mary Louise Geiger used her lights with skill, turning the smallish CSC playing area into a complex space. Adam Wernick’s light-hearted score was enhanced by Matt Stine’s sound design.
Michael Kahn’s finesse with his gung-ho cast keeps the play rolling along like a well-oiled, cheery train, or should I say carriage?
The Liar (through February 26, 2017)
Classic Stage Company
136 East 11th Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues
New York, NY
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.classicstage.org
Running time: two hours 15 minutes, including one intermission
Photos: Richard Termine