Review: Seattle Public Theater's THE LIAR: Effervescent and Groovy

By: Feb. 06, 2017
Rafael Molina and Trevor Young Marston in
"The Liar"
Photo credit: John Ulman

Modern adaptations of traditional texts are common, but mod adaptations of traditional texts are quite rare. Seattle Public Theatre's "The Liar" puts a 60s twist on a 17th-century farce, and it works.

"You need 10 tongues, an onion and an ax

the way that you make minced meat of the facts

then dish them out to folks like truth tartar."

These are the words of Cliton, a young servant stupefied by his master's penchant for lying in David Ives' "The Liar". Ives' modern adaptation of the 17th-century farce by Pierre Corneille floats above the fray of the average modern-day parallel in this jaunty caper of love and deceit.

One man, Dorante, cannot help but lie, and seems to relish in it. His servant, Cliton, cannot help but tell the truth. The dialogue of this production is written entirely in verse, but is peppered with modern references and colloquialisms. Through superlative performances, meta audio cues (actors interacting with the sound booth to prompt or cut-off sound) and a 60s mod aesthetic, Director MJ Seiber's effervescent production celebrates the art of the lie for laughs, showcasing the beauty of theatre as a work of fiction.

Brace yourself for a complicated web of love and deception. If it would help, you can picture a series of photographs pinned to a corkboard with interconnected by red yarn (this is one example of the many tools used in the show to acknowledge the silliness of the story). Dorante (Trevor Young Marston) is enamored with Clarice (Jéhan Òsanyin), but he thinks her name is Lucrece (Adria LaMorticella). Lucrece is Clarice's mousy friend who is only taken by Dorante because she thinks he loves her. Clarice is engaged to Dorante's friend, Alcippe (Rudy Roushdi), and neither Dorante nor Alcippe know about the other's relationships to Clarice. Additionally, Dorante's mother Geronte (Julie Jamieson) has promised Dorante's hand to a mystery woman. Meanwhile, Cliton (Rafael Molina) falls for Clarice's coquettish maid, Isabel (Pilar O'Connell), who happens to have a twin sister, Sabine, who is also a maid.

As Dorante, Trevor Young Marston is precocious, seductive and spry. Rafael Molina's portrayal of his counterpart Cliton had the awe and concerns of a preteen in a very charming way. Jéhan Òsanyin's Clarice was grounded and in-charge, and complimented Adria LaMorticella's mousy Lucrece perfectly. Pilar O'Connell was equally funny as the coquettish Isabelle as she was the dominant Sabine. Rudy Roushdi portrayed Alcippe as a walking, well-dressed nerve ending: volatile, but not unjustly, and had the standout costumes of the evening. Julie Jamieson's Geronte was sturdy and maternal, but convincingly would side with her son, blinded by parental love. Jerome Vernich's Philliste was deliciously smug and arrogant.

How fitting to compliment this effervescent romp with a 1960s, mod aesthetic. Just like the characters and the lies they tell, the outfits are outlandish and colorful. AliRose Panzarella did a fabulous job curating dramatic, bold, bright, geometric, cheetah-printed ensembles. Panzarella captured the characters' unique personalities within a 60s framework wonderfully. This production of "The Liar" has the added bonus of being a fashion show wrapped in a play.

Even shlubby Cliton was provided with clean overalls, suspenders, and a freshly pressed bandana to put in his back pocket, a sort of blue-collar ascot.

Director MJ Seiber took advantage of every inch and every moment. Performers run out of the theatre through the lobby, and the transitions become something to look forward to with the homage to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Whether it's the spoken verse, the vibrant costumes, or the characterization of the sound effects, never once does Seiber let you forget that this is show is exactly that. 1960s Parisians did not speak in verse. This is not a play that will feel real, and that's the beauty. Dorante physically reenacts moments that never actually happened, so it's only fitting that these reenactments be complimented by sound effects. For example, while Dorante and Alcippe are pretend sword fighting, one imaginary sword gets thrown aside, and we hear a scream. It's layered and silly. It's the Marx Brothers in 1960s Paris.

In a psychadelic swirl of colors and conflicts, having grey, brutalist architecture as the backdrop felt off. Perhaps scenic designer Catherine Cornell intentionally created a drastically understated and minimalist physical world because there is already so much going on aesthetically and literarily. It's historically accurate, but not pleasing to the eye.

For this groovy piece of pop-art, I give Seattle Public Theatre's "The Liar" a delighted 4.5/5 stars. It's Yé Yé French pop meets Cornielle. C'est magnifique!

"The Liar" performs at Seattle Public Theater through February 19th, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at