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The Liar

Translated and Adapted by David Ives
Directed by Michael Kahn
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW Washington, D.C.

When was the last time you were at a theater when the audience roared with laughter. It’s a sound you hear when high hilarity is on stage as well --in full regalia with expert costumes, sets and great language! The golden gift of theater is its speech. Human beings are the only creatures on earth who can tell a story, and when the stories are in pentameter, rhymed couplets, braided with slang and colloquialisms, we respond not only to the experience but to the victory in human excellence. A marvelous two hours.

“The Liar,” a French farce by Pierre Corneille, premiered in 1643 and is now revamped, premiering in a new adaptation by David Ives. Let’s put it on the table –to recreate this masterwork for modern times is to write a whole new play. The play is part of the Shakespeare Company’s ReDiscovery series for works not available on today’s stages. Ives is a brilliant playwright and linguist, and a perfect pick for the job. In the play’s prologue the servant Cliton (Adam Green) proclaims,”My news wil be even worse/our actors will be speaking verse…What is pentameter you say? /On with the play!” It is remarkable that meaning is never sacrificed to rhythm throughout the two acts. Rhyme is a funny thing. Students of poetry want to avoid getting locked in that rocking chair with nowhere to go. In this piece, however, eight actors use rhyme like a swing from one to the other, a zip ride for emotions, in a choreography of sound.

Dorante (Christian Conn) the liar, arrives in Paris with a new law degree. Where there are George Washingtons in the world who cannot tell a lie, Dorante cannot tell a truth. His lies are brilliant—deliciously adorned with spectacle and imagery— using whatever thought is at hand to get whatever he wants at the moment. ”The unimagined life is not worth living,” he tells us. And his servant says, “He minted all those lies/I stand in awe/ Well, let us not forget/ he studied law!”

The conceit of the piece is the usual formula of mistaken identities, letters passed to the wrong recipients, hidden conversations. That’s only the skeletal frame, because the real architecture of the play is found in the constant motion of word play and body movement. Geronte, Dorante’s father (David Sabin) pressures his son to find a mate and is only assuaged by the growing tale that Dorante is already married, and soon expecting a child. This myth is the subtext for other various lies heaped on, as each in turn, serves to deter or refuel Dorante’s glorious pursuits.

One unforgettable scene is a sword fight without swords, between Dorante and Alcippe (Tony Roach)in a battle tempered by Alcippe’s comrade Philiste (Aubrey Deeker.) Another scene to remember is Dorante giving his servant lying lessons. “All the world’s a lie and all the men and women merely liars.” There is not a wittier scene in memory. And guess what, this servant will wind up being the missing brother to Dorante, for one more final surprise. And throughout the romp, while Dorante courts Clarice (Erin Partin) or Lucrece (Miriam Silverman) or courting each…or both… every line said is a punch line (try that in Iambic.) As you can imagine there will be discord found in this fine frenzy. Clarice: “Find an asbestos tux and button it well/I’m only meeting you in Hell.” Yet each lover finds a partner in the end thanks to notes passed by the servant(s) Isabelle and Sabine who are Identical twins but for their morals (Colleen Delany.) Eight actors, each a leading character if we go by crisp distinct delivery and authority of manner. I don’t know how they were cast (perfect diction?) but the air sparkles with the bracing air of action and speech well executed. This mix of Dr. Seuss and Corneille in 17th century Paris will be a significant fun event in your theater-going history. Production: Set Design, Alexander Dodge; Costume Design, Murell Horton; Composition, Adam Wernick; Sound Design, Martin Desjardins; Lighting Design, Jeff Croiter; Text Coaching, Ellen O’Brien; Stage Manager, M. William Shine; Asst. Stage Manager, Elizabeth Clewley. Copies of the script are available on ShakespeareTheatre.org as well as Amazon.com. Playing through May 23 ShakespeareTheatre.org 202-54 7-1122.

Grace Cavalieri is a playwright and a poet. She produces “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress.” Her latest book is Sounds Like Something I Would Say ©2010.

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