Friday, February 3, 2017

Off-Broadway Review—David Ives’s “The Liar”

The Liar
Adapted by David Ives, based on Corneille’s Le Menteur
Directed by Michael Kahn
Performances through February 26, 2017
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, New York, NY

Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow in The Liar (photo: Richard Termine)
I cannot tell a lie: David Ives is the funniest playwright in America right now, as The Liar—his, as he calls it, “translaptation” of a 17th century comedy by Frenchman Pierre Corneille—demonstrates again and again for two madcap, and side-splitting, hours.

Ives tinkered with Corneille’s play about a man who cannot tell the truth, and the lies he spins become ever more elaborate until even he can’t tell what he has and hasn’t said. Eager knight Dorante (an amusing Christian Conn) appears in Paris one day and immediately hires Cliton (peerlessly funny Carson Elrod, a longtime Ives collaborator) as his servant—Cliton is the exact opposite of his new master in that he always tells the truth. Right after they agree to terms, two lovely ladies enter: both Clarice (adorable Ismenia Mendes) and Lucrece (headstrong Amelia Pedlow) turn Dorante’s head, even though he speaks only to Clarice, while Cliton talks with Lucrece’s flirty maid Isabelle…or is it her straight-laced twin sister—and Clarice’s maid—Sabine (both played with sass by Kelly Hutchinson)?

As usual with such silliness, Dorante’s lies pile up, Cliton’s truth-telling gets him slapped in the face (he mistakes Sabine for Isabelle on more than occasion), Dorante’s father Geronte (a doggedly goofy Adam Lefevre) plays matchmaker for his son and Lucrece, and Dorante’s swashbuckling friend Alcippe, betrothed to Clarice, challenges him to a duel. By the end of the play—no surprise—all is sorted out and three impending marriages are celebrated.

Ives’ always euphoric wordplay reaches even greater heights with its frothy rhymes and spirited iambic pentameter, all bouncing trippingly off the tongues of a smashing cast that’s been directed by Michael Kahn for maximum comic effect. It’s all frivolous, to be sure, but even in its innocuousness there’s more than a grain of truth to its implication that, for those in a position of power, lying is de rigeur. As Dorante himself admits to the audience:

Maybe Corneille will write me up a play.
Or maybe, with my gifts and disposition,
I’ll emigrate and be a politician.
But think, before you hit the subway booth,
How this was all a lie—and yet the truth.
Impossible? Don’t hurt your spinning head.
Just hie thee happily home and lie—in bed!

The Liar
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, New York, NY

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