Story: Dorante is an elegant, upper-class cad. He’s journeyed to Paris in 1644 in search of a wife, unaware that his father already has decided his marital fate. While there, Dorante stumbles upon an amiable chap named Cliton, an impoverished but decent fellow who needs a steady job. Cliton convinces Dorante that he should be Dorante’s servant, which appeals to the gentleman’s vanity.
What the scrupulously honest Cliton quickly learns is that Dorante is an habitual liar. The man can’t speak the truth; in fact, he thrives on prevarication. If that isn’t enough of a challenge, Dorante immediately is smitten with desire when he meets the lovely Clarice and her equally attractive friend Lucrece. Besides lying, though, Dorante doesn’t pay attention, and confuses the names of the two lasses.
So, while he’s decided to pursue Clarice, he mistakenly thinks she is Lucrece. Furthermore, when his father Geronte informs Dorante that he has selected a young woman named Clarice to be his son’s bride, Dorante concocts one outrageous tale after another to convince dear old dad that his son already is secretly hitched, with a grandchild on the way to boot. Unfortunately, this also serves to exacerbate Clarice’s own frustrations with her wayward wooer.
Add twin servants for the ladies, one of whom has a mutual attraction to Cliton, and two vapid fops who have their own amorous intentions with the fairer sex, and you have a recipe for mistaken identities, convoluted, comic contrariness and the eternal quest for romance in the City of Lights.
Highlights: Playwright David Ives describes The Liar as his ‘translaptation’ of a 17th century comedy by French playwright Pierre Corneille. Ives’ work had its premiere in Washington, DC in 2010 and since has been performed in Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, among other locales.
Presently it’s receiving its St. Louis premiere courtesy of St. Louis Shakespeare in a rollicking, inspired interpretation by director Suki Peters and an irrepressible cast that mostly keeps The Liar’s audience gleefully amused in grand style.
Other Info: It’s no coincidence that St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Ives’ clever, comic caper. For starters, his dialogue is written in iambic pentameter in homage to The Bard and the Elizabethan style of poetic speech on the stage.
Second, again borrowing from Will, Ives incorporates identical twins into the script in the characters of Sabine and Isabelle, two very different ladies in waiting to Clarice and Lucrece, respectively. Lord knows that Shakespeare thought that mistaken identity was a virtual ‘must’ for many of his comedies.
The entire production is wonderfully conceived and executed, with a few minor glitches. One would like to hear Jared Sanz-Agero in the title role sound more accomplished with Ives’ difficult meter. While his interpretation of the scoundrel Dorante is delicious, his speech often seems out of sync with other performers.
Secondly, there are stretches when The Liar seems to teeter a bit into tedium, albeit brief interludes. Those moments can also remind an audience, though, of how brisk and airy Peters’ pace is for the most part.
There’s clever use of two stage hands (assistant stage managers Abby Lampe and Katie Robinson?), who appear before the show for an amusing and whimsical prologue by Ben Ritchie as Cliton beseeching the silencing of electronic devices and the quiet unwrapping of bean burritos or whatnot. The two lasses then dress in costume for scene changes, darting off and on the stage with new set pieces.
Costume designer JC Krajicek decks out the characters in wildly festooned colors, including their outrageous, exaggerated wigs and peacock makeup to accentuate the fun-loving nature of Clarice and Lucrece or enhance the gaudy vanity of the men, with the notable exception of the earnest Cliton.
Director Peters alludes to the production being a combination of "art direction by Adam Ant of a play by William Wycherley starring the Monty Python" troupe, a savvy assessment. Jeff Roberts' sound design, e.g., is a catchy collection of ‘80s pop tunes, including a coy reference to the title role with a Duran Duran number.
Set designer Michael Dombek lays out the action on a brightly colored floor with set pieces that allow for smooth access to and from the stage. That’s combined with a shuttered window, chairs and other furnishings for the aristocratic set and funky props furnished by Meg Brinkley to maintain a ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ approach to the presentation.
Performances are delightful, especially by Nicole Angeli and Ritchie. Angeli has a precise comic touch that enlivens her characters, and here she maintains an air of inspired quirkiness around Clarice that captures Ives’ fevered imagination.
Ritchie’s understated Everyman style works impeccably in his role as the often exasperated, always hopeful underling Cliton, whether in frustrating give and take with his mendacious master or his puzzlement over the conflicting emotional signals he receives from a servant who actually is twins.
Sanz-Agero plays the title role to the hilt, never losing confidence in his ability to stretch a lie further than a giant Slinky as he makes up stories as he goes, flippantly damning the consequences, a 17th century Teflon aristocrat.
Maggie Murphy shows her comedic skill in the role of the beautiful Lucrece, who plays a frustrated second fiddle to Clarice because of Dorante’s confusion over who is whom. She’s especially humorous in a scene doing her Cyrano de Bergerac impression, providing glib comments for Clarice to mouth to Dorante.
Jamie Pitt is lots o’ fun as the stiff, stern Sabine and the fun-loving, impish Isabelle (or is it the reverse?), especially when confusing and astounding Cliton.
There’s good supporting work as well by John Foughty as the upbeat but clueless Aclippe, in love with Clarice, John Wolbers as his haughty and imperious pal Philiste (complete with black, horn-rimmed glasses from another century) and Robert Ashton as Dorante’s shallow father, whose pomposity pokes fun at the French upper class.
Good times and happy hijinks swirl around The Liar, and that’s the truth.
Play: The Liar
Company: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity Avenue
Dates: August 21, 22, 23, 24
Tickets: $15-$20; contact 361-5664 or brownpapertickets.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Kim Carlson