Review: St. Louis Shakespeare's 'The Liar' is Truly Funny
Playwright David Ives’ updated translation of the 17th century farce, “The Liar,” written in twisted iambic pentameter verse, tells the tale of the amiable scoundrel, Dorante, who travels to Paris in search of a bride. Besides Dorante’s penchant for grandiose lying, the plot is thickened with heavy doses of farcical ingredients: Mistaken identities, mixed-up twins, and spurned (or not) lovers. The cast—with tongues planted firmly in-cheek—gambol through the spirited production making a lighthearted, comedic evening that is yeasty and sophisticated, rather like drinking a beer with your pinky in the air.
Aside from the general story and the characters, this translation bears little resemblance to the original French version, written by Pierre Cormeille in 1644. Ives has generously sprinkled modern references throughout. Cellphones are used, iPads mentioned, a selfie is taken, and frequently words like “schitzo” rise above the verbal fray, but where Ives really shines in his devilish, irreverent verse, with rhymes that are shoe-horned into place, such as the utterance, “Unless the Louvre, has moved-ra.” Ives constructs entire stanzas just to get to the payoff, as when Dorante compares his intended to a clam and waxes poetic, “You may be a bivalve, but you’re my valve.” It’s so bad, it’s good.
Jared Sanz-Agero plays inveterate liar Dorante with some aplomb and fanfare, nicely contrasted by Ben Ritchie as the reserved and underplayed Cliton—the manservant Dorante employs (but never pays) when he arrives in Paris. Nicole Angeli as Clarice and Maggie Murphy as Lucrece play the two beautiful ladies who cause all the confusion. Dorante falls in love with Clarice, but confuses her name with Lucrece. Both actresses show fine comedic skill. Jamie Pitt is a hoot in the dual role of the twin servants of the female ingénues; Sabine, who’s as serious as a heart attack, and fun-loving and flirtatious Isabelle.
The humorously volatile Aclippe, played by John Foughty, is also in love with Clarice, and with red-faced frustration, challenges Dorante to a duel (who accepts, only to cleverly wriggle out of it with the subsequent duel playing out sans swords.) John Wolbers is his foppish friend Philiste, and Robert Ashton does a nice job as Dorante’s well-meaning and gullible father.
Director Suki Peters keeps the play moving at pace, and does a fine job keeping the story at the forefront. Costume designer JC Krajicek has done a tasty job, especially with the ladies who are deliciously adorned in—from hair to toe like lollipops—aqua blue (blueberry), peach (peach) and red (cherry). Michael Dombek’s simple set serves the play well and evokes the time period. With Alex Pack’s flawless lighting, Meg Brinkley’s props (is the burrito a prop?), and Sound Designer Jeff Roberts’ lively and appropriate modern music selection during scene changes, there’s a lot to commend in this production.
At times the discipline of movement in the period style was a little lax—fidgeting and so on—and there was a tendency to recite the verse in a steady, sing-song manner rather than finding variance in intent and rhythm, but the production nevertheless is very funny and satisfying. With Ives’ hilarious translation, “The Liar” is definitely not your father’s farce.
“The Liar” continues at St. Louis Shakespeare through Aug. 24. For tickets and information visit the St. Louis Shakespeare website.