By: Isa Goldberg
The dictum “the unexamined life is not worth living”, is merely a set up for hilarious antics, or so it would appear, in David Ives’ The Liar, currently at the Classic Stage Company (CSC). In fact, at this performance, it behooves us to put any thought of morality aside. Unless it sort of tumbles out of the lampoon, it is hardly with our time.
Speaking in iambic pentameter, Ives’ poesy unleashes some gems of slapstick dialogue. Here’s an instance, from the intro, “We’ve stowed our snacks, we’ve peed, we’ve sexted. Deep breath now, everyone, release all strain, And with those gadgets, please – turn off your brain.” The great classicist Corneille, would turn over in his grave!
Set in the Paris of 1643, an on-stage sign points us to the “Royal Place”. “Unless the Louvre has mouvred”, that reference must be to the Palais Royale, where one may shop for such antiquities as this comedy, Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille, which Ives has adapted. This is a farce more worthy of Moliere.
The action turns around the way the characters literally (and metaphorically) bump into each other. As Ives describes his play, it’s “the truth, as refracted in a theatrical fun house mirror”. Here, two men, Dorante (Christian Conn) and Alcippe (Tony Roach), friends from childhood, butt heads when they discover that they are both in love with the same princess, or so they imagine. Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow portray the fair maidens with the rhyming names Clarice and Lucrece. In a commanding comic turn, Kelly Hutchinson portrays both of their lady servants, Isabelle and Sabine – twins who are as different in their temperaments as Jekyll and Hyde.
Duplicity is entirely the matter at hand. And Christian Conn is the gifted actor to whom the role of Dorante, the masterful liar, fits like a glove. His instructions include using natural gestures, speaking trippingly, and never telling the truth. As his sidekick, Cliton, the marvelous Carson Elrod plays his manservant as well as the jester, who perpetuates the tale. That seems to be the product of his malady – an uncontrollable fixation on spouting the truth.
It’s all steered with a wonderful sense of timing and farce by the Shakespearean director, Michael Kahn. Murell Horton’s take off on 17th costumes, and Adam Wernick’s cheerful evocation of its music, enhance the symmetry. Neither Alexander Dodge’s scenic design nor Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting are overdone. Happily, everything else is.
The Liar ***1/2
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13 Street
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