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A CurtainUp Review
With Pierre Corneille’s The Liar, Ives has adapted a play that is, itself, an adaptation. Corneille drew heavily from Juan Ruiz de Alarcon’s La verdad sospechosa or The Suspicious Truth which, incidentally, played at Gramercy Arts Theatre in NYC in last fall. Curtainup reviewed The Liar in Washington DC and New Jersey.
The setup, briefly: Dorante, a young man who has perfected the art of lying to gain his ends, arrives in Paris. In short order he finds a servant, Cliton, who can only tell the truth. After encountering young ladies walking in the Tuileries, he sets his sights on a potential fiancée, who is secretly engaged. Typical comic ingredients include rascal, servants, confidantes, mistaken identities, twins, bombast, and light romance— all done in iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets, which may sound deadly but isn’t. In addition, an awareness of this-is-theater runs through the piece along with self-awareness on the part of some characters. At one point Dorante says that he "shows us the Commedia we’re all masked for."
Ives’s approach to this adaptation is more about the way the plot fits into the meter and rhyme than the other way around, which would be the normal route for writing an original play. Ives revels in wordplay. His deft lines, full of contemporary winks, turn on their tails. (This playwright, you may recall, invented Unamunda, his own nonsense language.) I’d love to have been there as he arranged this whole affair — translating from the French while injecting hilarious fresh references in rhyme. He must have been laughing aloud as he put this together.
In 17th century Paris the theater celebrated talk, artifice and formality. Actors on the proscenium stage largely faced the audience head-on to present their lines. In the Lantern’s contemporary production actors address each other from various angles within a performance space surrounded on three sides by audience. Madcap entrances and exits take advantage of the stage configuration—but otherwise, other than a bizarre dual, there’s precious little action. So although energetic cast members handle cadence with dexterity— and they’re all really funny— the play seems long.
Ives has massively modernized The Liar’s language, but his staging goes half the distance. Wouldn’t it have been fun to see Lantern ditch the set piece approach, kick out the jams and get physical with it?
It’s a good sign when sound designer/composer Christopher Colucci’s name is listed in a program. It means they’re going for musical creativity. During transitions we hear his unusual creation that includes speeded up harpsichord accompanied by vocalizations. It would have been wonderful to hear the strains woven under the scenes as well. Meghan Jones ‘s bright and versatile scenic design, lighted by Shon Causer, works. As director Kathryn MacMillan says, "The set does what the language does."
While you may often crave food for thought at the theater, sometimes you just want to enjoy a show that has all the heft of froth on a latte. This ultra-light concoction delivers intelligently designed nonsense that teases and tickles the funny bone.
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