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The Liar

by David Ives, adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille

Directed by Suki Peters

St. Louis Shakespeare

August 15th, 2014

Jared Sanz-Agero, Ben Ritchie Photo by Kim Carlson St. Louis Shakespeare

Jared Sanz-Agero, Ben Ritchie
Photo by Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare

I cannot tell a lie–I couldn’t stop laughing at The Liar. The recent adaptation by David Ives of the 17th Century French comedy by Pierre Corneille is the latest production from St. Louis Shakespeare, and it’s a fast-paced, witty, outrageous delight.  With some very clever writing and excellent casting and direction, this is a St. Louis area premiere that’s sure to cause a lot of honest-to-goodness laughter.

The setting is France in the 1600’s with a bit of a 1980s twist, with a few more modern touches like smart phones thrown in for good measure. It’s something of a hodgepodge, but it works surprisingly well.  The story follows bon vivant and pathological liar Dorante (Jared Sanz-Agero), who has just arrived in Paris full of wild, grandiose stories of his exploits that he uses to impress anyone he meets, particularly the truthful-to-a-fault Cliton (Ben Ritchie), whom Dorante hires as his servant; and Clarice (Nicole Angeli), a flighty and somewhat snarky young woman who is catches Dorante’s eye even though she is practically engaged to his old friend Alcippe (John Foughty).  Complications ensue when Dorante gets Clarice’s name mixed up with that of her more soft-spoken friend Lucrece (Maggie Murphy) and much confusion results, including unwelcome intervention from Dorante’s father Geronte (Robert Ashton), and more mistaken identity involving the identical twins Isabelle and Sabine (both played by Jamie Pitt), who are the servants of Lucrece and Clarice, respecitvely.

Since I’m unfamiliar with the original play, I’m not sure exactly how faithful Ives’s adaptation is, but it has obviously been embellished with some ingenious, quick-witted rhymes and contemporary use of language.  It’s full of broad characterizations, contrasting the outrageous vanity and materialism of some characters with the cluelessness of others, with hilarious encounters including an imaginary duel, a twisted Cyrano-like wooing scene, and many quick entrances and exits by characters.  The scene changes are even funny, with two costumed stage hands moving the set pieces to a soundtrack of 1980’s hits by Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, Robert Palmer and others. It’s all very precisely staged with impeccable timing by director Suki Peters, and the actors do an admirable job of keeping up the pace and making the rhyming dialogue sound natural.  Visually and technically, it’s all consistently realized, with the 17th Century French costumes augmented with a 1980’s aesthetic of bright, fluorescent colors, with puffy skirts and corsets for the women and ruffled shirts and brightly-hued jackets for most of the men, and a rainbow of wigs for all.  Costume designer JC Kajicek, set designer Michael Dombek and the entire technical crew are to commended for this very boldly realized production that manages to be both classical and edgy at the same time.

The actors here are all in top form.  As Dorante, Sanz-Agero is commanding and grandiose, and well-paired with Ritchie as the constantly bewildered Cliton.  These two have some great scenes together, particularly one in which Dorante tries to teach Cliton his techniques for deception, and Ritchie tries to copy Sanz-Agero’s broad gestures as well as his speech, to uproarious effect.  Foughty is also a delight as the theatrically suspicious Alcippe, with his “duel” with Sanz-Agero’s Dorante being another comic highlight. Angeli and Murphy make a great team as the best friends, the more caustic, manipulative Clarice and the more reserved but increasingly confused Lucrece.  There are also great performances by Ashton as the meddling Geronte, John Wolbers as Alcippe’s foppish friend Philiste, and especially Pitt as the two very different sisters–the flirtatious Isabelle and the more severe, bossy Sabine.  The players all work together extremely well, carrying off the sharp, witty dialogue and physical comedy with striking success.

While I enjoy seeing favorite familiar plays, there’s a particular joy in discovering something I haven’t seen before, and especially something like this that’s been given such an inventive approach and vibrant staging.  This play explores the different perils that can come from lying as well as from telling the truth, as well as being a witty exploration of the complications of romantic pursuits.  It may be set in 17th Century Paris, but it’s infused with many modern sensibilities and it’s sure to provide many a laugh for today’s audiences.

Maggie Murphy, Nicole Angeli Photo by Kim Carlson St. Louis Shakespeare

Maggie Murphy, Nicole Angeli
Photo by Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare

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