'The Liar': Theater Review

The Liar - Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Richard Termine
The witty wordplay shines, even if the production sometimes doesn't.

Acclaimed playwright David Ives of "Venus in Fur' fame delivers a verse adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century French comedy 'Le Menteur.'

Playwright David Ives defies the odds with The Liar at Classic Stage Company. With his comically inventive verse adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s relatively obscure 17th-century play Le Menteur, he takes what should be a tough sell for modern audiences and turns it into an awful lot of fun.

Ives calls his work a “translaptation,” meaning a translation with a heavy dose of adaptation, and one of the characters introduces his concoction — right after the usual warnings about cell phones, etc. — with the instruction, “Turn off your brain.” The advice is best ignored, because otherwise you’ll miss much of the wittiness of the richly dense dialogue. The playwright has had ample experience with this sort of thing, having previously written the acclaimed adaptations The School for Lies (based on Moliere’s The Misanthrope) and The Heir Apparent.

On the other hand, you really don’t have to worry about following the absurdly convoluted plot of the play set in 1643 Paris. The central characters are Dorante (Christian Conn), a bon vivant new to town who cannot help but lie compulsively, and his newly hired valet Cliton (Carson Elrod) who has the exact opposite problem. Dorante quickly sets his romantic sights on the beautiful Clarice (Ismenia Mendes) — or maybe it’s her best friend Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow), since he has trouble telling them apart.

Complicating matters even further are the insanely jealous Alcippe (Tony Roach), to whom Clarice is secretly engaged; Geronte (Adam Lefevre), Dorante’s father who desperately wants to see his son married; and a pair of maids, one prim and the other proper (both amusingly played by Kelly Hutchinson), who drive Cliton to distraction.

Ives cleverly adds meta-theatrical touches to the proceedings — we’re informed at one point that we’re sitting through “the exposition scene” — and displays no compunction about mixing in anachronistic touches. But it’s the sheer silliness of the adaptation (excuse me, translaptation) that beguiles, such as when Lucrece describes herself to Dorante as “your faithful oyster, the bivalve at the back whose eyes grow moister.”

“You may be a bivalve, but you’re my valve,” Dorante tells her.

And who can resist when Cliton offers Dorante these directions: “Champs Elysees, my friend, lies that-a-way/Unless the Louvre has mouvred since yesterday.”

The CSC production of the play previously seen at several regional theaters doesn’t always live up to the writing’s sparkle. Most of the ensemble lack the necessary comic flair for the piece, and Michael Kahn’s staging, for all its fast pacing, tends toward the one-note. Thankfully, there are exceptions: Elrod, who has emerged as one of New York theater’s MVPs when it comes to farce; the versatile, quick-changing Hutchinson; and the reliable veteran Lefevre. It’s these performers, and Ives’ script, that give the evening its buoyancy and its genuine comic pleasures of both the slapstick and sophisticated variety.

Venue: Classic Stage Company, New York City
Cast: Christian Conn, Aubrey Deeker, Carson Elrod, Kelly Hutchinson, Adam Lefevre, Ismenia Mendes, Amelia Pedlow, Tony Roach
Playwright: David Ive
Director: Michael Kahn
Scenic designer: Alexander Dodge
Costume designer: Murell Horton
Lighting designer: Mary Louise Geiger
Original music: Adam Wernick
Sound designer: Matt Stine
Presented by the Classic Stage Company