Written by David Ives
Delightfully frivolous romp is perfect summer escape
|Writers’ Theatre presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Pierre Corneille‘s The Liar is a delightfully frivolous bauble of a play, as witty as it is silly. It borrows from some of Shakespeare’s tried and true comedic conceits: mistaken identities, long lost siblings reunited, multiple weddings providing a giddily happily-ever-after ending among them. The plot, centering on a deliciously flagrant fabulist, is a mere piffle. It’s featherweight frippery to be sure, yet Writers’ Theatre‘s staging of this arguably unnecessary farce is absolutely worth seeing. The primary secrets of its success? The first is David Ives‘ insouciant, pitch-perfect adaptation. The second is director William Brown‘s ability to create an ensemble that finds the heart amid the linguistic sparkle, making The Liar a tale rooted in honest emotional stakes amid dazzling wordplay and comic shenanigans.
Initially debuted by Corneille in 1643, The Liar centers on the titular story teller, a handsome, cocky fellow named Dorante (Nate Burger), whose driving credo is "the unimagined life is not worth living." Dorante is a newly minted lawyer (what else?) who is new in town – or maybe he’s been there for a year and is a decorated veteran of some epic wartime heroics. Or maybe he’s the arguably dutiful husband of a Gypsy maiden who is with child. It all depends on which version of his fabulous life story Dorante chooses to spin.
As Dorante’s foil and Man Friday, Corneille gives us Cliton (LaShawn Banks), a gent as pathologically, haplessly addicted to truth-telling as Dorante is to tall-tale telling. In short order, the men encounter the winsome young Clarice (Laura Rook) and her equally appealing companion Lucrece (Kalen Harriman). Continuing with the doubling motif, The Liar gives Clarice and Lucrece a pair of twin-sister servants, the ferociously flirtatious Isabelle and her martinet, kill-joy,prune-faced sibling Sabine (both played by Anne E. Thompson). Rounding out this merry band of lovers and liars is Dorante’s Polonious-like father Geronte (Jonathan Weir) and Clarice’s somewhat vaingloriously immature fiancé Alcippe (Michael Perez).
Ives spins the linguistics with the ease of a master, his rhyming pentameter structure playing perfectly into a piece focused on the elaborate machinations of language. Do not, by any means, let the prospect of two hours of rhyming couplets intimidate you. The verbiage flows as naturally as 21st century vernacular in the cast’s uniformly skilled delivery. It also takes the story’s inherent humor into LMAO territory. If you are not chortling before Banks has completed the play’s brief prologue, then you are an irredeemably tragic figure.
Burger’s Dorante is a genial scamp whose skills of ornate fabrication make for some terrific comedy, whether he’s trying to talk his way out of a seemingly inextricable pickle (far and few between are the men who can credibly manage the acquisition and divestiture of a Gypsy wife and child within the space of a day) or talk his way into the heart of a woman he truly adores. Banks is in fine fettle as the put-upon Cliton, snapping off ripostes ("He minted all those lies/I stand in awe/Well let us not forget/he studied law.") and – in one eye-opening scene that skirts the knife edge between foolery and wisdom – attempting to master the art of lying under the tutelage of his silver-tongued boss.
Amid all the verbal sparring, Brown has maneuvered in what is surely the most uproarious and original scene of stage combat to grace a stage this year. In Corneille’s original, the duel takes place off stage – Brown’s crafty, imaginative staging moves the swordplay to within inches of the audience in Writers’ intimate space, creating a showstopping spectacle that’s bolstered by Andrew Hansen‘s swashbuckling sound design. Costume designer Rachel Anne Healy‘s tricked-out renditions of period-appropriate bodices, doublets and pantaloons are eye-catching and apt representations of the characters that wear them. Dorante is embellished from lacey cuffs to dandy shoes; Isabelle sports a heaving, fruit-on-a-platter bodice – her sister is buttoned-up in a high-necked blouse that doesn’t reveal anything beneath the chin.
The truth of it all? The Liar is an utterly winning romp.
The Liar continues through August 11th at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map), with performances Tuesdays at 7:30pm Wednesdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm and 6pm. Tickets are $65-$70, and are available by phone (312-242-6000) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at WritersTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
behind the scenes
William Brown (director), Keith Pitts (set design), Jesse Klug (lighting design), Rachel Anne Healy (costume design), Andrew Hansen (sound design), Julie Eberhardt (props design), Michael Brosilow (photos).