Dallas — The house lights go down and a smiling young man in a bright costume and sock cap bounds onto the stage and starts his spiel about putting away our cell phones and candy. Then he tells us to turn off our brains along with our iPods, and just laugh at the zany tale to come. But wait. His words rhyme. That’s right, he says, this show is all in verse!
Our man picks up a Servant for Hire sign, marches to stage center and The Liar is off and running in Theatre Three’s production of David Ives’ sparkling and hilarious adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s timeless 17th century comedy. In one fast scene, we meet a dandy who cannot tell the truth, his hopelessly honest valet, and the rollicking confusion that arises when they team up to woo Parisian ladies and their mincing maids.
Ives, whose plays include the smartly erotic Broadway hit Venus in Fur, writes witty, surprising, sometimes steamy rhymes. His verse is as wildly improbable as Corneille’s plot itself, loaded with mistaken identities, twin servant mix-ups and enough romantic chaos to fire this farce on high-heat throughout.
B. J. Cleveland directs with his trademark comic pacing and broadly physical approach to farce. The characters may be confused, but the actors playing them never miss a beat of the smart, loaded versifying. On an open arena stage with a Paris-looking minimal set design by Jac Alder, Cleveland gives his agile actors plenty of room to flourish their swords, doff their plumed hats, heave their bosoms mightily, or whatever it takes to get a laugh. This shamelessly seductive cast had opening night audiences giggling, chuckling and guffawing helplessly, as advertised.
No sooner does our doughty man Cliton (a muscular and roguish Michael Kreitzinger) advertise his services than onto the scene struts Doronte (a swaggering, baby-faced Zak Reynolds with a perfectly penciled mustache), a young gent from the country just arrived in Paris, decked out in lacey collar and velvet doublet and eager to meet girls. Doronte hires Cliton on the spot, when he declares, “I don’t eat much/check my diameter; I work, I clean/I speak pentameter.” Cliton also rhymes “spectrum” and “rectum” when need be. Who wouldn’t want this guy?
Two stylish beauties out for a spring stroll and looking fancy-fine in Bruce Coleman’s bright, playful period costumes appear on the scene. Flirty and chatty Clarice (a coquettish Jenna Anderson given to come-hither glances) and her quiet friend Lucrece (a reserved Liz Millea in wallflower-about-to-bloom mode) are instantly intrigued by the commotion. Bowing and jaunty, Reynolds’ Doronte spouts grand stories of military exploits and juicy verses declaring his long-smoldering love for Clarice, who he actually just met. We’re all taken in by this liar’s sheer shower of words and meter, and give him a hand. The ladies give him a street address.
Blown away by a pretty face and his own inflated ego, Doronte confuses their names and sets out to win the wrong woman. Of course, when his loving dad Geronte (a sturdy, sweet-smiling Bradley Campbell) comes to town to set up a marriage for his only son, Doronte is forced into super-liar mode, setting off an explosion of mishaps and laughs. His old friend Alcippe (an energetic, hot-headed Dustin Curry) shows up, adding a jealous suitor to the merry mash-up of lying and loving it, which is Doronte’s life. I want to learn the goofy buddy greeting of these old friends, involving hand-slaps, foot-pats and a swift hip gyration. Coolness.
Truthful Cliton has his own troubles when his amorous advances to the smiling, teasing maid Isabelle are suddenly rejected. How can he know her identical twin Sabine is a prim and proper maid with a permanent frown? Scowling Sabine is known to be “…hard to rattle / and on a picnic, expert with a paddle.” Susanna Catherine Fox makes both sisters lively and funny, and almost manages to be in two places at once by the time poor Cliton figures out what’s up.
Will this tangled web of a plot ever resolve itself? Seeing is believing—and it’s great fun to watch the crazy plot unravel in such style. Remember, liars of Doronte’s caliber can get away with anything—even a surprising and terribly clever ending.
Gifted liars, come take a turn.
Rigid truthies, prepare to learn.