Shakespeare & Company performs THE LIAR by David Ives
Shakespeare & Company presents The Liar by David Ives, adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille, Patrick Brennan, set designer; Govane Lohbauer, costume designer; James W. Bilnoski, lighting designer/electrics; Michael Pfeiffer, sound designer; Jessie Earl, stage manager; directed by Kevin G. Coleman. Cast: Douglas Seldin - Cliton; David Joseph - Dorante; Emily Rose Enlinger - Lucrece; Alexandra Lincoln - Clarice; Dana Harrison - Isabelle/Sabine; Enrico Spada - Alcippe; Marcus Kearns - Philiste; Jake Berger - Geronte. About 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission. February 1 - March 24, 2013. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA.
Brilliantly based on the 1643 play by French writer Pierre Corneille, The Liar now playing at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA is a farcical blizzard of lies and fabrications written in rhyming verse by David Ives. Replete with rhyming couplets throughout, the wordplay keeps the mind spinning even as the visual farcical antics play out in near slapstick performance. The Liar is a play that appeals to the intellect while evoking raucous laughter from the gut. It's quite a potent theatrical concoction.
The tall tales are woven by the would-be hero Dorante, convincingly played by David Joseph. The guy could probably make a better living as a used car salesman than as an actor but we are blessed that he chose acting. His delivery of lies is perfect. We believe him more often than not. For example, he embroiders his introductions with tales of military daring and romantic conquests meant to impress the ladies and thwart his competition.
Of course, even the most masterful lier is usually unable to keep track of their untruths, and so Dorante walks a tightrope of one mistaken fact twisted into another, the threads of deception in danger of unraveling at any moment. David Joseph's Dorante is nimbly assisted by Douglas Seldin as Cliton, a servant for hire who finds himself constantly bailing out his master by keeping most of the lies straight so as to avoid disaster. While Dorante is never able to tell the truth, Cliton finds it impossible to lie. A perfect setup for laughter. Together, the two make for a classic comedy team when the facts take a nosedive and the romantic plots begin to thicken and then boil over.
The object of his affection is Clarice played by Alexandra Lincoln or is it Lucrece played by Emily Rose Ehlinger. The ladies are coy and devious in their actions, further confusing who is in love with whom and why.
Adding to these delightful mistaken identities and mixed motives is yet another twist. In the double role of Isabelle and Sabine is the side-splitting Dana Harrison who is the only force on stage that can outshine Joseph and Seldin, to hilarious effect. When Harrison's turn is added to Seldin's graceful pratfalls and Joseph's arsenal of gesticulations we are in the company of one great acting ensemble.
The plot is complicated and dynamic, what with all nonstop lying and rhyming going on. In fact, the wordplay is so dense and delightful that the audience quickly learned to control its laughter so as not to obliterate the following line. Each new verse built on the previous one. The use of puns, even in Franglais, is topped only by the use of erratic words. For example, Dorante in coming up with his improvised lies often pushed the envelope on similes and metaphors. When attempting to explain how deep his love is to his prospective wife, he ends up comparing her to a clam and then says: "You may be a bivalve, but you're my valve."
As usual Shakespeare & Company shows that bawdy, almost slapstick comedy is just as much at home with their company as the great classics. No surprise, since Shakespeare himself knew a thing or two about making people laugh.
As usual, the cast was uniformly polished and drawn from the extensive regular company which gives its players a chance to play a variety of roles. Playing the pugnacious Alcippe is the reliable Enrico Spada as Clarice's fiance. The cast is rounded out with Marcus Kearns as Philiste and a constantly frustrated Geronte (Jake Berger) , as his father.
Berger had the benefit of the most eccentric costume of all, which can only be described as a sort of mismatched bumblebee which perfectly emphasized his character. He buzzed on and offstage, each time making a beeline for his son, as he tries to bring sense to Dorante's chaotic lies and deceptions.
In fact, all the costumes by Giovane Lohbauer were elegant and sumptuous but for practical reasons, only up to a point. The frantic farcical aspects of this play also demanded that they be functional as the whirling dervish of director Kevin Coleman's direction had them choreographed to within an inch of disaster. One second late and an actor could easily be hurt. As with Goldilocks, there was not quite enough billowing fabric for a period costume drama, nor was there so little that you wondered if they were on a budget. The final result was just about perfect, sealing the desired period look without endangering the actors as they climbed, clambered, entered and exited the stage.
The set design by Patrick Brennan is simple, though a bit cumbersome in its scene changes. Again Coleman handled that with some fleeting choreography of the scene changes. They were almost a blur, clearly worked out with great care, the practical side of directing made visible. But Kevin Coleman is also a master of nonstop action comedy. And most importantly, he loves the words so that despite all the farcical commotion on stage - they remained the foundation upon which this show is built.
In the end this may not be great literature, or even terribly sophisticated comedy. But you're unlikely to ever see a more clever, ridiculously rhymed comedy in your lifetime than The Liar.
And that's the truth, I swear.
Photo Credit: Kevin Sprague.