Sometimes you just need to laugh, and with The Liar, David Ives’s 2011 take on a 17th-century French farce, that’s exactly what you’ll do. Ives’s adaptation, based on the play Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille, puts a contemporary spin on a vintage script. Presented in verse but sprinkled with modern references, it’s a winkingly meta comedy in period guise — most apropos for a piece based on mistaken identity.
The year is 1643, and mendacious Dorante (Christian Conn) has just arrived in Paris. On the Place Royale, he meets the earnest Cliton (Carson Elrod), an out-of-work manservant looking for a position, and with the promise of payment at a later date, the two team up. The first order of business is, to paraphrase, scoring a chick for Dorante, and lucky for them, they soon run into two women (Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow) who seem amenable to their advances; the titular liar is quickly smitten with one but doesn’t catch her name, and hijinks ensue.
Elrod’s Cliton, a valet who’s physically, comically incapable of telling a lie, is the standout, and he’s the perfect foil to Conn’s silver-tongued Dorante, an unabashedly brazen player. As Clarice and Lucrece, Mendes and Pedlow nail their portrayals of two ladies enamored of the same man yet still inordinately fond of each other, while Tony Roach plays hotheaded Alcippe, Clarice’s intended, with cartoonish, temperamental aplomb. Kelly Hutchinson does comedic double duty as Isabelle and Sabine, a Jekyll and Hyde–like set of twin maids, and Adam LeFevre is endearing as Dorante’s loving buffoon of a father.
Though the madcap first act flies by, the second feels a bit slower, at least until the action ramps back up to its inevitable conclusion. Ives (Venus in Fur) has written a clever script — the decision to stick with verse could have been an annoying conceit, but in his capable hands, it’s an ingenious way to tweak the source material. Scenic designer Alexander Dodge makes good use of the small stage with a stripped-down, vertically oriented set, while Murell Horton’s ridiculous yet period-appropriate costumes add an extra level of absurdity. (Who knew that gentlemen in 17th-century France wore knee-length, beribboned pants and boots with spurs?)
An offhand mention of an emolument got a knowing chuckle from the audience, but on the whole, this play is a study in escapism. From the rapid-fire dialogue and the mistaken-identity shenanigans to one sublimely silly duel, Ives’s Liar is a treat — and that’s the truth. B+