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Review: David Ives' Verse Comedy, THE LIAR, Offers Alternative Corneille

Press performances for David Ives' sharp and funny verse comedy THE LIAR began just around the time when political headlines were being made about the phrase "alternative facts."

Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod
(Photo: Richard Termine)

Alas, the hot topic didn't find its way into the playwright's text, an adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 1644 farce first performed in 2010 and now receiving a sparkling Classic Stage Company production directed by Michael Kahn.

Though the play retains the original's 17th Century Parisian setting, the mixing of modern American vernacular is established from the outset, as a prologue inquires, "Ladies and gentlemen! Mesdames, messieurs! / All cell phones off? All cellophane secure? / Please note, for an emergency, the exit. / We're set! We've stowed our snacks, we've peed, we've sexted."

The speaker of that speech, Cliton (charmingly droll Carson Elrod), is a servant-for-hire with the fatal flaw of only being able to tell the truth. ("The same thing fifty times has come to pass: / I tell my boss the truth, he fires my ass!")

As would be required in such ventures, his services are hired by a habitual liar, Dorante, grandly played by Christian Conn as a swaggering braggart swordsman.

Romantic confusion ensues when Dorante's heart is quickly captured while conversing with Clarice (Ismenia Mendes) a young lady strolling through the Tuileries with her shy friend Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow). Too occupied with trying to impress her with stories of his wartime heroics. ("Spilling crimson streams I fought the Hun / At Leberwurst, Heissfrankfurter, und zo on."), Dorante fails to ascertain the lady's name. When Cliton asks Lucrece's lusty maid Isabelle for the identity of the two ladies, she reveals both their names and refers to her mistress merely as "the greater beauty."

Ismenia Mended and Amelia Pedlow
(Photo: Richard Termine)

Thus assumptions are made, identities are confused and lovers miss-matched until it all works out in the end.

Kelly Hutchinson gives a fun turn doubling as the flirtatious Isabella and her twin sister, Clarice's stern and domineering maid, Sabine. Adam LeFevre is sweetly gregarious as Dorante's father, Geronte, who commences wedding plans, not knowing that Clarice is secretly engaged to Alcippe (outlandishly passionate Tony Roach).

But the plot isn't the point here. Ives is a proven master of wordplay and Kahn has his company emphasizing his wit at a clipped pace. A particular highlight comes when Dorante borrows a bit of Hamlet's advice to the players when giving instruction on how to convincingly speak falsehoods.

It's a fitting lesson to include in what the French might call alternative Corneille.


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