Aisle View: Mendacity in the Capital

Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod in The Liar
Photo: Richard Termine

The newly-installed regime at Classic Stage Company has seen fit to continue the CSC relationship with playwright David Ives, and that mirthful decision is all to the good. Most successful of the six plays has been has been the 2010 Venus in Fur, which made an overnight star of Nina Arianda and transplanted itself to a commercial Broadway run. On the hilarity scale, meanwhile, audiences laughed themselves silly at The School for Lies and The Heir Apparent.

Now we have The Liar. Like the two plays mentioned directly above, it is a free adaptation of a classic (or near classic); in this case, Pierre Corneille's 1644 hit, Le Menteur. Ives has once again taken an ancien playwright's plot and retained the period flavor, with the dialogue meted out in classical pentameter albeit with a wild and anachronistic modern-day bent. Thus, we see Corneille's uncontrollably self-aggrandizing leading man through present-day glasses. And no, neither Corneille nor Ives based their character on current-day liars, current-day politicians, or both.

We first meet a man who cannot tell a lie, the servant Cliton (Carson Elrod). Cliton, not Clinton. Poor man, he sees his inability to tell anything but the truth as a detriment. He quickly finds his opposite in mendacity in Dorante (Christopher Conn), just arrived in Paris to find a wife. Dorante quickly stumbles upon the fair Clarice (Ismenia Mendes) and her slightly less fair friend Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow), and don't think that there won't be complicating confusion over Clarice/Lucrece. Dorante instantly sweeps the mademoiselles off their pieds with vainglorious tales of himself.

2017-01-26-1485467581-8523874-2.IsmeniaMendedandAmeliaPedlow.PhotobyRichardTermine.jpgIsmenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow in The Liar
Photo: Richard Termine

Dorante has a bumbling-but-goodhearted father, Geronte (Adam Lefevre), who naturally enough arrives in town to set up a match between his son and the daughter of an old friend (said daughter just as naturally turning out to be Clarice). This results in the usual plot complications, including dollops of mistaken identity and even twins separated at birth. There are also a not-separated-at-birth pair of twin maidservants, Isabelle and Sabine (Kelly Hutchinson), who never quite meet onstage and provide significant mirth.

One suspects that Corneille saw Dorante as his leading man, but between the verse of Mr. Ives and the clowning of Mr. Elrod, it is Cliton who instantly engages our attention and affection at CSC. Elrod might well be the best farceur to turn up since James Cordon. Since first appearing as an overgrown Lost Boy in Peter and the Starcatcher, this rubber-faced actor with innocent mien has delighted us as a wildly blue aborigine in The Explorer's Club and in Ives' Heir Apparent. Here he is pure delight, with Ms. Hutchinson--like Elrod, a veteran of Ives' Lives of the Saints--serving as a delicious foil with a game sauciness on the one hand and a harsh puritanism on the other. Conn, Mendes and Pedlow all add to the evening's charms, but it's hard to hold the spotlight when there is a master clown upstage.

The Ives adaptation of The Liar is not a new play, exactly, having been commissioned and originally produced in 2010 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC. But what's six or seven years, when Corneille contrived the thing more than 350 years ago? Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Company, directed the premiere of The Liar and restages it at CSC, with scenery by Alexander Dodge, costumes by Murell Horton, and some properly bemusing incidental music by Adam Wernick.

Tony Roach, Christian Conn and Carson Elrod in The Liar
Photo: Richard Termine

Were one absolutely forced to rank the CSC productions of the Ives adaptations, I daresay that School for Lies would take the first spot. Even so, The Liar is sparklingly witty fun and merits a slot on your playlist.
David Ives' The Liar opened January 26, 2017 and runs through February 26 at the Classic Stage Company