BWW Reviews: THE LIAR Makes Its Intelligently Hysterical LA Premiere at the Antaeus Theater in NoHo
With complete comic genius and spot-on creativity, Casey Stangl directs the Los Angeles premiere of the wildly clever, intelligently hysterical (and a bit naughty), all the while brimming with wordplay and swordplay, David Ives' English-language adaptation of Pierre Corneille's THE LIAR. On all accounts, this is a delightfully ingenious and irreverent update of a classic French romp, presented in the Antaeus tradition best known as "partner casting" with two actors sharing every role, working together throughout the rehearsal process to enrich the creative experience for both cast and audience.
As I learned during the audience talkback after the performance, the actors did not find out which ones would be playing the characters on which dates until Tech Week, making each performance seem new and fresh. The actors seem to be enjoying themselves so much, you can't help but be pulled into the story no matter how outrageous and baffling the situations become. I can understand why audiences, who rarely see an understudy due to Antaeus' trademark "partner casting," frequently return to see the same play in the hands of an equally excellent but very different set of actors.
Written in 1643, Le Menteur (THE LIAR) was based on a Spanish story of adventure written by Juan Ruiz de Alarcón y Mendoza. Corneille's adaptation depends less on thrill and more on verbal repartée, the follies of modern courtship and Parisian life than its Spanish precedent. In writing the play, Corneille invented the comedy of manners, which he described as "the portrayal of social intercourse among persons of good breeding."
Since all roles are partner cast, I will note the cast members I saw in bold. THE LIAR is the hilarious tale of Dorante (Nicholas D'Agosto / Graham Hamilton), a charming young man newly arrived in Paris who has but a single flaw: he cannot tell the truth. But does truth really matter in an age obsessed by the surface of things? When this charming and handsome pathological liar enters Paris, he impresses everyone who hears his stories. But as his lies multiply, will Dorante be able to keep them straight and still manage to get the girl?
In quick succession Dorante meets Cliton (Rob Nagle / Brian Slaten) a manservant who cannot tell a lie, and falls in love with Clarice (Kate Maher / Jules Willcox), whom he unfortunately mistakes for her friend and confidante Lucrece (Ann Noble / Joanna Strapp). What our hero regrettably does not know is that Clarice is secretly engaged to his best friend Alcippe (Joe Delafield / Bo Foxworth) who does not take kindly to finding our his best friend is now his romantic rival. His valet Philiste (Jeff Thomas Gardner / Jonathon Lamer) follows, all the while hiding his own secret romantic encounters. Nor is Dorante aware that his father Geronte (Robert Pine / Peter Van Norden) is trying to get him married to Clarice - whom he thinks is Lucrece. Add to the mix identical twin maid servants Isabelle and Sabine (Gigi Bermingham / Karen Malina White, each playing both roles), and the stage is set for mayhem with mistaken identities fueling the hysterical comedic situations.
References to classic works, most often Shakespeare, are sprinkled throughout, making the play a highly intellectual comedy amid the low-brow farcical situations. Cast members often share their innermost thoughts as asides directly to the audience with a change in lighting alerting us that their words are meant to not be heard by anyone else in the cast. This device is most often used by the unable-to-tell-a-lie Cliton (Brian Slaten) who allows the audience to know that he recognizes Dorante (Graham Hamilton) for the liar he truly is, or is he? Cliton vows to stick around and see, at least until he gets his promised, but as he knows, never quite forthcoming pay from Dorante. Slaten and Hamilton are a joy to behold as they banter back and forth, especially during the most outrageous stories concocted to try and win the hand of his mistaken lady love.