Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Dorante (deft Aaron Krohn) is a nifty embellisher, fabricator, creator of whopping storiesall to the benefit of this play. He has money and claims to have dashed a few Germans during a recent war. Now he employs Cliton (Rusty Ross) to help find him a suitable woman. Enter pretty, dark-haired Lucrece (Monique Barbee) and sexier, blonder Clarice (Kate MacCluggage). Dorante is immediately taken with Clarice, but his theoretical adviser Cliton tells Dorante that this is actually Lucrece. Actress Rebecca Brockman plays both Isabelle and Sabine, look-alike sisters. Isabelle, fast-moving, has ready eyes for Cliton. By the way, Sabine is ultra-conservative. Meanwhile, red-headed Alcippe (Philippe Bowgen) has been engaged to Clarice. By now, you will not be shocked, somehow, to learn that Alcippe and Dorante are good friends.
Geronte (Brian Reddy) happens to be Dorante's father who very much hopes his boy will marry and have an offspring. Alcippe's friend Philiste (Jay Russell) just happens to have the hots for Sabine.
Playwright David Ives, a talent, has given us All in the Timing, Venus in Fur and much more. Five years ago he was asked to tackle the project of translating and adapting this Corneille for the Shakespeare Theatre of Washington. WCP artistic director Mark Lamos has written that he laughed aloud when first reading The Liar. Frankly, it is easier to imagine enjoying this one on the white page than much scripted work which, for good reason, should (mostly) be seen, heard, and experienced.
The Westport rendering boasts an enticing look. Set designer Kristen Robinson places some tree-like fixtures (initially lime-green and then lift differently) on stage. The actors move a screen, chairs, and other scenic pieces around. Costume designer Jessica Ford has everyone wearing catchy seventeenth century wardrobe items. Sound design by David Budries enhances as it often accompanies set changes accomplished, so to speak, on the fly. Matthew Richards' excellent lighting is also essential.
Dorante is verve personified. He is audacious, a bit ludicrous, and full of himself. This character realizes, through extroverted performance, that he is the centerpiece. During the second act, he takes off on a delightful rant. Do we believe any of it? It is easy to admire Aaron Krohn who performs with joy, physicality, and great enthusiasm. MacCluggage's Clarice is forward and likable and she seems to enjoy manipulating Dorante. Barbee's Lucrece (seemingly a bit shy) is smart and, potentially, tart. Ross plays Cliton, pivotal, who managed to get hired by Dorante; but the amiable Cliton, in contrast to his new boss, tells the truth and only the truth. He is somewhat appalled that Dorante is tireless with his lies. Cliton, too, has a romance in process with Isabelle.
What makes The Liar most distinctive is its sublime language (and one should nod toward voice and text consultant Elizabeth Smith). Through both Corneille and Ives, an audience falls prey to word fiddling, end rhyme, pun, pentameter, and so forth. Yes, all of this tends to confuse but that, in this case, is tantamount to fun. Those seeking profundity and/or memorable thematic experience will not find it here. That is not to suggest that this show lacks dexterity. On the contrary, the material requires actors to digest the dialogue and then very much inhabit the characters as lines are delivered. Director Metropulos spins this presentation into high gear early on, creates specificity and also allows the uniformly excellent group of actors to realize the script's promise.
The Liar continues at Westport Country Playhouse through May 23rd, 2015. For tickets, call the box office at (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.
- Fred Sokol