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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
With a central character who's a man compelled to tell nothing but lies, the title of Pierre Corneille's 17th century comedy is indeed accurate. But especially unpleasant as any odor of mendacity is these days, not so David Ives' "transplantation" — meaning a translation with a heavy dose of updated adaptation.
Unlike the limited vocabulary twittering that continues to dominate the mendacity fueled political arena, words win the day whenever Mr. Ives takes on a centuries' old classic. Even liars are fun and funny when "transplantated" by him.
Like his previous giddy forays into Moliere's plays for CSC (School for Lies and Heir Apparent ) Ives' transplantated" The Liar remains true to its source, yet with a decidedly modern Ivesian spin. Best of all is that it's again scripted almost entirely in rhymed couplets. The fun provided by this devilishly clever dialogue make one wonder why rhyming has so fallen out of favor. Without those audaciously playful rhymes and Ives' astute rejiggering of the awkward and outmoded elements of the plot there would be little reason to retrieve Corneille's farce from the theatrical dustbin.
It helps that Michael Kahn, who directed this production's premiere in DC, is on board at Classic Stage to insure that prevaricating Dorante's misguided courtship of a Parisian beauty erupts into deliriously entertaining mayhem to extend the humor of the word play with typical comic ingredients. Those familiar comic elements include confused identities, sword fights and other physical pratfalls.
Though Ives' verbal wizardry makes the entire play feel as if just written, Kahn has also brought along set designer Alexander Dodge and costumer Murell Horton to maintain the charm and look of a 17th Century French costume drama. Under Kahn's fast moving direction all the actors, some repeating their DC roles, excel at both the verbal and physical hi jinx.
Christian Conn and Carson Elrod are ideally cast as Dorante and Cliton, the play's opposites in terms of truth telling. Conn is every bit the smooth man on the make who can't resist puffing himself up with fabrications. Elrod's unemployed Cliton, on the other hand, speaks only the truth. When he spots the prosperous looking newcomer to Paris Dorante in the Tuileries Gardens, he offers himself up as his valet. A terrific point-counter-point duo is thus born to lead us through all the misadventures to be unfolded before the inevitable all's well ending.
The women central to the romantic entanglements are Clarice (Ismenia Mendes) and her best friend Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow). To further complicate matters there's Dorante's friend Alcippe (Tony Roach) who happens to be secretly engaged to Clarice, his buddy Philliste (Aubrey Dekker), Dorante's father Geronte (Adam LeFevre) whose matchmaking maneuvers for his son are prompted by his yearning for a grandchild.
I won't go into details about how Dorante manages to extricate himself when one of his tall tales misfires. Suffice it to say that he survives — and happily so.
If I had to pick the one most unforgettably hilarious scene it would be Dorante and Alcippe's sword fight without a sword. And if I had to single out one actor, it would be the as yet unmentioned Kelly Hutchinson. She's priceless as Clarice and Lucrece's servants, sweet Isabelle and grouchy Sabine — who are of course twins. Hutchinson's character shifting entrance and exits make for a running gag that really works.
Designers Dodge an Horton are well supported by their backstage colleagues; J. Jared Janas with his period perfect wigs, Mary Louise Geiger and Matt Stine and Adam Wernick with their effective lighting, sound and incidental music.
To conclude by going back to the beginning. . . be glad that David Ives is a man of the theater. Unlike grandiose Dorante it's a safe bet that he's never consider that "with his gifts and disposition/ he might one day emigrate and be a politician."
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David Ives adaptation of Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille
Directed by Michael Kahn. Cast: Christian Conn (Dorante), Aubrey Deeker (Philiste), Carson Elrod (Cliton), Kelly Hutchinson (Isabelle/Savina), Adam Lefevre (Geronte), Ismenia Mendes (Clarice), Amelia Pedlow (Lucrece) and Tony Roach (Alcippe).
Set design: Alexander Dodge
Costume design: Murell Horton
Lighting design: Mary Louise Geiger
Original music: Adam Wernick
Sound design: Matt Stine
Hair, wigs, makeup: J. Jared Janas
Vocal Coach: Deborah Hecht
Stage Manager: Kristin M. Herrick
Running Time: 2 hours, includint 10-minute intermission.
Classic Stage Company CSC 136 East 13th Street
From 1/11/17; opening 1/26/17; closing 2/26/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 1/21/17 press preview
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