Off Broadway Reviews
Not that this applies to the setup, which is sufficiently timeless that it could fuel any number of sitcoms until time immemorial (and probably has already). Dorante meets two friends, Clarice and Lucrece, on the streets of Paris, and decides to pursue the former under the impression that she's the latter. Absurdity ensues, in no small part because he is, as the title character, incapable of telling the truthhe weaves every story to suit a certain end rather than explain the world as it is. Paired with a manservant, Cliton, who cannot tell a lie, separating fact from fictionand getting every person properly paired offis no simple task.
The rhyming pentameter from which Ives has constructed nearly all of his dialogue (unsurprisingly) proves a natural fit for the myriad zany complications of the heart, head, and other bodily environs that result from all this. Take this exchange from the potential lovers' first meeting:
Clarice: "However sweet your manual sensation, / This hand's not meant, monsieur, for your palpation."
Romantic, ribald, classical, modern, lyrical, thumpingIves maintains, amplifies, and deconstructs these contradictions countless times across the two-hour evening, somehow exploring every conceivable permutation (including, at the climax, one you're conditioned to believe impossible) among nine sharply defined characters without ever wearing out the gimmick's lilting welcome.
The staging from Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. (where this play premiered in 2010), is grounded yet zippy, so you're always believably coexisting in both the real and the ridiculous. Murell Horton has provided an eye-grabbing collection of period costumes as passed through a Technicolor filter, Mary Louise Geiger's lights flood the playing space with the proper jolts of excitement, and the original music (from Adam Wernick) adroitly captures the proceedings' innate jauntiness. Only Alexander Dodge's sets, which project a dullish, low-budget vibe without embracing a firm point of view (why do the paintings look like an unpaid intern Photoshopped Roy Lichtenstein?), seem at odds with the rest of the production.
Christian Conn is a devilishly good Dorante, locating every possible drop of sincerity within a man who could not begin to understand the meaning of the word. Tony Roach brings a billowing swath of wry bravado to Clarice's fiancé, Alcippe. (Both actors created their roles, and their bone-deep familiarity with them is thrillingly evident throughout.) Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow craft Clarice and Lucrece with lush, bold strokes and understated gaiety that let them shine even though they're a bit removed from ground zero of the silliness. Kelly Hutchinson, Aubrey Deeker, and Adam Lefevre bring robust commitment to their smaller roles, rounding out the company's periphery with attractive and intricate detail.
Perhaps no one onstage represents The Liar better than Carson Elrod, who, as Cliton, embodies the concept's playfulness with an unabashed love for the unusual. From his opening speech ("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."ick, there's another one of those non-rhymes) to the lying lesson with Dorante that supercharges the start of Act II, he's as masterful at ejecting jokes from his voice as from his constantly moving, clay-like limbs.
In other words, he succeeds for the same reason Ives does: because he takes his comedy seriously. That's why it doesn't matter if The Liar is intellectually or socially redeeming. Ives so wants it to be the best badness it can be, you'll never for a second feel like you're being shortchanged.