BWW Reviews: We'd Be Lying If We Disparaged THE LIAR
Honesty may be the best policy, but it's not the most fun one. Thank God 16th century playwright Pierre Corneille and modern day playwright David Ives have an affinity for the truth-challenged. Ives's modern take on Corneille's classic French comedy The Liar is an exhilarating and side-splitting mix of the old and new, and Austin Playhouse's production of it reminds us just how exceptional the Austin theater community is.
The satiric farce follows Dorante (Benjamin Summers), a rogue whose inability to tell the truth contrasts the predicament of his servant, Cliton (J. Ben Wolfe). While Dorante is a habitual liar, Cliton always tells the truth, despite his efforts not to. When Dorante meets the beautiful duo of Lucrece (Lara Toner) and Clarice (Hildreth England), he immediately falls for Clarice. There are only a couple of problems. First, Clarice is engaged to Alcippe (Samuel Knowlton), and second, Dorante mishears her name as that of her friend, Lucrece. A hysterical zany comedy of errors ensues.
While the hilarious plot and eccentric characters are all of Corneille's design, the delivery is all Ives. Anyone who caught Austin Playhouse's recent production of Venus in Fur knows that Ives has a gift for comedy and for writing brassy, modern dialogue. It's interesting to hear Ives's biting, contemporary dialogue pared with these classic characters (and spoken in rhyming couplets, no less). But after a minute or two, it's easy to be completely taken with the anachronistic mishmash, and the styles complement each other rather than clash. If anything, Ives's modern voice makes the characters and situations come off all the more absurd, nonsensical, and infectious.
All of the elements in The Liar seem to play into Austin Playhouse's wheelhouse. This is by far the best comedy on the Austin Playhouse stage since last year's Noises Off. Director Don Toner keeps the play going at a brisk pace and plays up the slapstick throughout. The set, by Patrick and Holly Crowley, is appropriately cartoony and over exaggerated, and Buffy Manners's costumes explode with color and help bring these wild characters to life.
The entire eight person cast seems to be overjoyed to have these preposterously fun roles. Benjamin Summers seems downright overjoyed to play the quasi-villainous Dorante. Dorante is downright diabolical in his incessant lies, and the gleeful quality that Summers gives him makes you love the scoundrel despite his obvious flaws. J. Ben Wolfe is fantastic as Cliton and plays the role of Dorante's faithful and immorally challenged servant with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Lara Toner and Hildreth England are adorable as gal pals Clarice and Lucrece. There's something about them that feels like two sorority sisters playing dress-up, and as odd as that image may be, it serves the play well and their friendship is undeniable. As Clarice's intense, angry fiancée, Samuel Knowlton stays just on this side of chewing the scenery, but given the material and Ives's quirky adaptation, his over-the-top performance is appropriate. Stephen Mercantel is riotously funny in the cameo role of the foppish Philiste; just watching him toss his hair had me giggling. Huck Huckaby is equally funny as Dorante's idiotic father, and Claire Grasso is a scene stealer in her dual role of twin sisters Isabelle and Sabine, handmaidens to Lucrece and Clarice, respectively. Watching Grasso switch from the sultry Isabelle to the staunch and prudish Sabine is a highlight of the evening, particularly in the final scene.
Between the text, direction, design, and astounding performances The Liar is one of the best comedies so far this season. And that's the truth.
THE LIAR plays the Austin Playhouse, located at 6001 Airport Blvd inside the Highland Mall, now thru Sunday, March 9th. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets are $28-$30. For tickets and information, please visit www.austinplayhouse.com