French Farce Brilliantly Adapted by David Ives
BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE | David Ives is at it again. He’s taken an antique French play and turned it into a rollicking comedy that will leave you in awe of his linguistic facility, crying with laughter, and thoroughly delighted. Just as he upended Molière with “The School for Lies,” he has now taken on “Le Menteur,” a 1644 piece by Pierre Corneille. “The Liar,” Ives’ adaptation now at CSC, preserves the plot and farcical nature of the original while adding levels of contemporary intellectual silliness that recall the best of “Monty Python” in a brilliant blending of high and low comedy.
The plot concerns a compulsive liar whose tall tales are mostly designed to bolster his own ego and make him seem much more than what he is (contemporary analogies surely coincidental, even if very satisfying). The provincial gentleman Dorante arrives in Paris to find a wife. On his first morning there, he meets the beautiful Clarice, whom he aggressively courts over her objections, going so far as to grab her by the… hand. (It’s 17th century France, after all!) He also meets Clarice’s companion, Lucrece, and acquires a servant, Cliton. And as luck would have it, he reconnects with an old friend, Alcippe. Busy morning.
Alcippe is in love with Clarice. Dorante thinks Lucrece is Clarice, and Cliton falls for Clarice’s servant, the bawdy Isabelle who, unbeknownst to him, has a puritanical twin, Sabine. Meanwhile Dorante’s father is trying to marry him off advantageously. In other words, it’s typical French comedy of the period.
Michael Kahn directs the whole undertaking with wit and verve, and the company is sensational. Christian Conn as Dorante, whose lies mount one on top of the other, is spectacular. Carson Elrod as Cliton is the perfect comic foil, with impeccable timing. Tony Roach as the besotted Alcippe is hilarious, and Kelly Hutchinson is marvelous as Isabelle and Sabine. Amelia Pedlow and Ismenia Mendes as Lucrece and Clarice, respectively, are charming, gamine, and deft comediennes.
Among the many pleasures of this production, the consistent juxtaposition of the Corneille and the contemporary — right down to Adam Wernick’s exceptional original music — is what makes Ives’ latest romp an immediate classic not to be missed.
THE LIAR | Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St. | Through Feb. 26: Tue.-Thu. at 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. at 3 p.m. | $61-$126 at ovationtix.com or 866-811-4111 | Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission