Le Menteur (The Liar)

by Maya Phillips

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 27, 2017

Christian Conn, Adam LeFevre and Carson Elrod
Christian Conn, Adam LeFevre and Carson Elrod  

Some may say that the political situation in this country the last few months has played out like a farce -- a satirical piece of black comedy that is more shock-worthy than it is laughable. Fortunately, Classic Stage Company brings some much-needed humor with "The Liar," a farce that is undoubtedly funny and utterly ridiculous in all the best ways.

We open in 1643 Paris with Cliton, a beggar-servant for hire who provides the set-up and serves as our self-aware guide through the proceedings. Cliton, who cannot tell a lie, meets Dorante, a fanciful fabulist who can do little else, and thus, the classic odd-couple pairing is established, as Dorante and Cliton try to find Dorante a Parisian bride of his liking.

Things seem to work in their favor when they encounter a woman named Clarice and her friend Lucrece, but soon the typical farcical complications reveal themselves: mistaken identities, secret engagements, misunderstandings, not one but two secret sets of twins, and a heaping pile of lies on top of it all.

Oh, and did I mention the rhyming? The entire show is spoken in verse, a modern, rhyming take on Shakespeare's blank verse and all the "forsooths" and "verilys" that come with it.

With all of its over-the-top ridiculousness, "The Liar" takes farcical theater to its limits, and its campy, hyperbolic rendering of the form teeters just on the edge of being too much without ever really going over. The rhyming dialogue, which is presented as a comedic novelty at first, provides a perfect example of how the play toes the line: As with any formal text, particularly one that involves rhyming pentameter, there is the threat that the pacing and reveals become too predictable and that the novelty of the trick gets lost after the first few lines.

"The Liar" avoids this, ironically, by going so far in the other direction-committing so fully to its sing-song language, full of anachronisms, bawdy double entendres (as well as very open sex jokes) and self-conscious allusions to Shakespeare and the broad history of comedic theater. The ultimate result is the Immortal Bard transcribed for modern times and given a playful kick in the shins: It's classic theater meets a modern sitcom, with all the twists of dramatic irony we cringe (and delight) to see.

Of course, regards must be given to playwright David Ives, who adapted the original, Pierre Corneille's seventeenth-century play "Le Menteur," so adeptly to the contemporary stage, and director Michael Kahn for interpreting the vision, but the cast also stands out for being the vehicles of the hilariously absurd.

Christian Conn, as Dorante, hams it up on the stage with plenty of transparent flair and flourish, but still manages to create in him a likable, if not terribly misguided, protagonist who does his best comedic work while caught tangled up in the net of his many lies.

Carson Elrod's Cliton, with one foot in the plot of the show and one foot out to provide the colorful commentary of an outsider's prospective, breaks the fourth wall while also providing a lovable foil to Dorante, reacting to the unfolding events with the appropriate amount of wit, irony, skepticism and shock (and great facial expressions to match).

Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow, as Clarice and Lucrece, have their own hilarious outbursts, particularly as Lucrece comes more to the forefront as a character as the show goes on. Kelly Hutchinson does double duty as stern Sabine and amorous Isabelle, particularly noteworthy in her flirtatious scenes with Cliton. Tony Roach's Alcippe provides the archetypal lovable dolt, a well-meaning hothead who ultimately seems most put out by all the proceedings.

Rounding out the cast, Geronte (Adam Lefevre), Dorante's father, fills the position of the lovable -- but gullible -- fool, while Philiste (Aubrey Deeker) sees through the lies but has a secret related to a certain sexual fetish -- of his own.

What isn't already delivered in the writing, acting and direction of the play are then delivered visually. The set, designed by Alexander Dodge, is fairly minimal, with two benches in the forefront, and a marbled gray backdrop and the occasional drop-down portrait and chandelier.

Murell Horton's costume designs, when juxtaposed with this backdrop, however, pop even more, though their bold colors, fabrics and embellishments are remarkable on their own as well, perfectly suited to the characters' colorful personalities and bright embellishments.

In the play's first act, when Dorante tells Cliton, "The unimagined life's not worth living," of course he's referring to his life of fibs, fictions, and fabrications (to use some of the alliterative wordplay that the play so loves), but by the end, the statement has another implication for the audience: In a world where the truth may be strange or inconvenient or even difficult to discern, sometimes a bit of imagination -- in the form of art, in the form of a lighthearted trip to the theater -- can be just the thing we need: honestly.

"The Liar" runs through February 26 at Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St. in New York City. For information or tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.classicstage.org.