While Shakespeare’s plays were often penned and performed for England’s elite, they were also intended for the masses. The bard’s more common contemporaries understood and appreciated his work, regularly flocking to the Globe Theatre to catch his latest tragic romance or suspenseful gore fest.
How fitting then that the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) spring offering “The Liar”— David Ives’ ridiculously (in the good way) rhyming adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s 17th century comedy — is so fabulously fun and accessible. With Ives’ jokes and Michael Kahn’s unswerving direction, the production is indeed a crowd pleaser.
The quick-paced romp’s title fibber, Dorante (Christian Conn), arrives in Paris armed with some introductions, a bit of dash, and a whole lotta imagination. Passing himself off as a war hero (when, in fact, Dorante like his creator Corneille is a lawyer from the provinces), he hires likable wise-guy Cliton (Adam Green) as his valet and sets straight away to wooing the city of light’s lovelier ladies — namely fair Clarice (Erin Partin) whom he mistakes for her sidekick Lucrece (Miriam Silverman), leading to all sorts of farcical confusion.
As Dorante, Conn is convincingly pathological — he lies speedily and with relish. And while many of his untruths are harmless, a few do land him in some very sticky situations; but alas, he’s not bothered, after all, this world class prevaricator’s credo is “The unimagined life is not worth living.”
And Ives’ pun and anachronism-filled script written entirely in verse only adds to the madness. For instance, Cliton gives Dorante the goods on Lucrece’s father “Perander. Rich as God. A Tuscan villa. Ski place in Gstaad.”
Per usual, STC regular Aubrey Deeker is excellent as Philiste, a level-headed gentleman who, like the audience, isn’t fooled by Dorante for a moment. Deeker eases comfortably into Ives’ sometimes dizzying verse and plays with the language. Similarly, Colleen Delaney is terrific as a pair of identical — but very different — twin servants, Isabelle and Sabine; and David Sabin fares well as the liar’s clueless father.
Staged by STC’s gay artistic director Michael Kahn, “The Liar” is a tight, fun-loving production with a very fine, on point cast. Designer Alexander Dodge has wittily set the Parisian scene with an outsized blue and white sign (Place Royal) and enormous topiary poodle. Murrell Horton’s grand period togs succeed in flattering corseted ladies and booted swashbucklers (although the closest thing to a sword fight is an amusingly staged duel between Dorante and his handsome foil Alcippe, played by Tony Roach.
It’s tempting to term “The Liar” as fun spring fluff, but the great labor that obviously went into updating the classical source material demands otherwise. In the program, Ives describes his gargantuan task as a “translaptation, i.e., a translation with heavy dose of adaptation.” He adds that he writes what “Corneille would have written today but in English.” In addition, the comedy expresses some keenly perceived views on the world — past and present.
But mostly, “The Liar” is a good time. And while you won’t find STC’s staid audiences picnicking in the stalls or razzing the actors like the rowdy patrons at Shakespeare’s Globe, they’re definitely enjoying themselves just the same.
Through May 29
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW