Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

The Liar: David Ives 2010 Verse "Translaptation"
of Obscure 1643 Corneille Comedy

Also see Bob's review of The Comedy of Errors

Jim Hopkins, Brian Cade and Kevin Isola
Seventeenth-century French playwright Pierre Corneille is best known today for his tragedies. However, his little remembered, rarely performed 1643 comedy The Liar came to the attention of D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company which felt that it was worthy of being restored to our classic repertoire. The theatre commissioned the American playwright David Ives (Venus in Fur; All in the Timing) to write a new translation. According to Ives, he decided to retain the pentameter verse structure and to employ modern day American English for his version. In order to "improve" the play and make it more accessible to modern audiences, Ives made changes which included trimming long speeches, adding subplots, merging two characters and cutting another. Ives has employed the term "translaptation" to describe his efforts.

The result of Ives' efforts is the witty, light as air comedy which is delighting Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey audiences in a visually lovely, spacious brand new production which captures the high artifice of Ives' adaptation.

The title role in The Liar is that of Dorante, a young and ridiculously flamboyant, newly anointed lawyer who has left the provinces and arrived today in Paris. Dorante is a congenital liar who is unable to speak the truth. So whether we see him lying to aggrandize himself and win a lady's admiration, to manipulate others in order to control his situation, or, in the light evening's only serious observation, because experience has taught him that the rich and powerful chronically do lie to their advantage whereas fortune's losers are disadvantageously honest, these are all secondary reasons for him being a liar.

The play commences at the Tuileries Garden where the unemployed Cliton, who is about to meet and be hired as servant to Dorante, reminds us in verse to shut our electronic devices. Well, it could be worse because he is also setting the tone for Ives' having chosen to update the play by using contemporary English and observations. In any event, Cliton is both lacking in funds and unsuccessful in his courtships because he is congenitally truthful. When courting, Cliton can only bring myself to rate the appearance of the girl as an "eight."

Like Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors currently delighting audiences at the Shakespeare Theatre's Outdoor Stage, the contretemps of The Liar are founded on mistaken identity. In short order, Dorante encounters friends Clarice and Lucrece in the Tuileries. He impresses them with fabricated stories of brave military exploits.

Smitten with Clarice, but believing her name to be Lucrece, Dorante concocts more outrageous lies when his father Geronte tells him that he has found him a girl to marry Clarice.

Although there are farcical elements here (The Liar has often been described as a farce), Director Paul Mullins has directed this Ives' version as a comedy of manners. This approach results in a most pleasing entertainment appropriate to the constant stream of verbal humor which is rife with comments on events from a 21st century perspective. There is a lot of humor which satirizes the very form of a verse play which was appreciably received by the opening night audience.

Kevin Isola displays a delightful comic persona as Cliton. Isola is so good that he makes us wish that his Cliton had more stage time. Brian Cade is thoroughly charming and lithe as the manipulative liar Dorante. As is so often the case with classical stage comedies, the artifice allows us to ignore any moral or ethical reservations about Characters such as Dorante. Even when angry, Jim Hopkins has a totally engaging bonhomie as Dorante's father, Geronte.

Jane Pfitsch as Clarice and Maya Kazan as her best friend, Lucrece, the former chatty and bustling, and the latter pensive and reserved, nicely play off one another to bring much texture to their roles. Clark Carmichael is a appropriately foolish as Alcippe, Clarice's secret fiancé. Katie Fabel is lively and funny in the contrasting roles of Isabelle and Sabine, respectively servants to Lucrece and Clarice. James Russell nicely completes the ensemble as Philiste, Alcippe's friend.

Michael Schweikardt's artfully shaped forced perspective sets for the buildings of the Tuileries Gardens are charming and create an airy feel which enhances the production.

To the delight of regional theatregoers, David Ives has clearly succeeded in his effort to bring new life to Corneille's The Liar.

The Liar continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday 7:30 pm (except 7/29); Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8 pm / Matinees: Saturday, Sunday 2 pm) through July 29, 2012, at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue at Lancaster Road, Madison, New Jersey 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600; online:

The Liar by David Ives; adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille; directed by David Ives

Dorante………………….Brian Cade
Cliton…………………….Kevin Isola
Geronte………………..Jim Hopkins
Clarice…………………Jane Pfitsch
Lucrece………………..Maya Kazan
Alcippe………….Clark Carmichael
Philiste……………...James Russell
Isabelle/Sabine………..Katie Fabel

Photo: ©Gerry Goodstein

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