Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Corneille-Ives The Liar Could Be Verse
Also see Bob's review of The Other Josh Cohen
As the play begins, the unemployed Cliton reminds us in verse to shut our electronic devices. Cliton is both lacking in funds and unsuccessful in his courtships because he cannot help but tell the truth. For example, when courting a maid, Cliton cannot bring myself to rate her appearance any more than an "eight." Cliton is in the Tuileries Garden in Paris where in short order, he will meet and be hired as servant to Dorante
Dorante, a flighty and flamboyant young man, has abandoned his fledgling career as a lawyer in the provinces and just arrived in Paris where he seeks adventure and romantic dalliance. He is a congenital liar who is given to braggadocio. Throughout, Dorante tells lies to win the admiration and affection of the ladies and to otherwise manipulate others in order to achieve control his situation and attain his goals. Dorante sagaciously observes that life has taught him that the rich and powerful chronically lie to their advantage whereas fortune's losers are disadvantaged by their honesty. This witty and cogent observation stands out amongst the fluff with which Corneille and Ives have almost entirely constructed their light entertainment.
Along come best friend cousins Clarice and Lucrece whom Dorante impresses with ridiculous, fabricated stories of brave military exploits. He is attracted to Clarice, but mistakenly believes her name to be Lucrece. Thereafter, when his father Geronte informs Dorante that he has arranged a suitable marriage for him, Dorante invents more lies in order to remain free to court "Lucrece". Meanwhile, Cliton has mistaken identity problems of his own when he repeatedly mistakes the maid Sabine for his desired maid, her twin, Isabelle. Maybe those names should be in reverse.
Brian Sheppard is an enthusiastic and likeable Dorante. However, Sheppard fails to display the heft and polish to fully satisfy. Dana Gartland is an appealing Clarice. Erica Knight at times is overly shrill as Lucrece.
Tom Morin brings a youthful enthusiasm and delight to the role of Cliton. His performance conveys a delight with his words that radiates throughout the audience. Phil E. Eichinger is over the top amusing as Alcippe, Lucrece's madly jealous secret fiancée. The veteran Alan Coates as Geronte lends needed solidity with his strong, unfussy, confident stage presence.
Director Carl Wallnau has given us a robust, lively production which emphasizes the rowdy slapstick elements of the play. The delicate comedy of manners style suggested by the pentameter, setting, scenery and costumes takes a decidedly back seat. While farce is certainly a major component of The Liar, it may be too determinedly focused upon in this production.
Ives' translation is at its best at the top of the play when he introduces us to his writing scheme. The juxtaposition between the lilt of the verse and the setting and story with modern vernacular is at its strongest and most amusing here. However, thereafter, the comic dissonance of Ives' approach largely fades. This is likely in part due to the lack of delicacy in its presentation. Additionally, it is sometimes difficult to follow contortions of the plot because of the failure of a key member of the cast to project adequately.
Bob Phillips' airy set, with miniature cutout drawings of the Paris park and surrounding buildings upstage, lends an attractive spaciousness to the setting. A full panoply of set pieces and furnishings including greenery provides various locations. Matching pairs of doors and windows (two stories high on either side of the stage), a posh inner proscenium, and five chandeliers complete the impressive setting.
Some scenes and the conclusion of the play (inspired by the just concluded Old Globe Theatre Broadway productions?) are punctuated with lively dances choreographed by Lea Antolini-Lid.
Although Centenary Stage Company is not in top form this time out, its production ofThe Liar is certainly lively and robust.
The Liar continues performances (Evenings: Thursday 7:30 pm; Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Wednesday & Sunday 2 pm) through March 9, 2014, at Centenary Stage Company at the Sitnik Theatre in the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Avenue, Hackettstown, New Jersey 07840. Box Office: 908-9794297; online: www.centenarystageco.org.
The Liar by David Ives; adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille; directed by David Ives