The Liar at Artists Rep Bullies His Way Into Our Good Graces

The truth is our head is still spinning from Artists Rep's take on David Ives. Was there a message in the madcap madness? We're not sure—but the costumes are great!

By Rachel Davidson June 4, 2015

The cast of The Liar, directed by Dámaso Rodriguez, at Artists Rep through June 21.

The truth? It's hard not to be captivated by David Ives’s two-act play, The Liar. The 17th century French comedy from Pierre Corneille, translapted (“translation with a heavy dose of adaptation”) in 2010 by playwright David Ives, includes insanely fast-paced wordplay, witty repartee, and a plot to make your head spin.

In Ives’s version, our liar, Dorante (Chris Murray)—bedecked in obnoxious orange and blue period garb, replete with matching periwinkle blue socks and hat of peacock feathers—arrives in 1643 Paris, where he quickly meets servant-for-hire Cliton (John San Nicolas). Then, in the Tuileries, Dorante espies the object of desire: the fair Clarice, herself resplendent in a bubblegum pink ball gown, matching eyeshadow, and what appeared to be a courtly version of Princess Leia's hairdo. (Kudos to actress Amy Newman, capturing the camp with obvious relish).

Photo credit: Artists Rep

Sidekick: check. Love interest: check. But that’s where the simplicity of the storyline ends; from here on out, we must somehow keep up with a tornado of romantic side plots, identity-swapping, nixed betrothals, and jealousy. Oh, and of course, lies (or as Dorante calls his brand of badinage, “truth-tartare”).

Our liar deals in untruths of all flavors: when attempting to win over Clarice, get himself out of sticky situations, or simply to burnish his own image. Little white lies, from his birthplace (maybe not Shanghai?) to wholesale fabrications, like serving as an artillery captain.

What elevates this bedroom farce, in part, is Ives’s fresh adaptation of Corneille’s French verse—still in iambic pentameter, but now a mash-up of Shakespearian English and modern diction, with phrases such as “son-of-a-bitch” and “what the twitter.” And though the wordplay is quick, fear not: these are running jokes, invoked by characters throughout the show.

Battling cheek-to-cheek. Photo credit: Artists Rep.

Of course, that much verbal sparring can be exhausting. To change up the banter in act 1, Ives offers a swordless duel—a refreshing twist on the old-school theatrical stage battle. Here, instead of fighting with blades, Dorante and opponent Alcippe use comic hand gestures and dramatic sidestepping, with metal “clinking” sound effects and narrative asides from Dorante himself. 

Lies are living, swelling, evolving things; to not get swept up in them here—like life?—you’ll need to pay fierce attention. It gets harder before it gets clearer: act 2 is even more confusing with the main characters now shifting their raison d’etre.

Do Corneille and Ives intend to offer a warning (pay attention!)? Or reassure us that the world moves too fast to interrogate every claim? By the end of act 2, we’re witnessing a veritable Busby Berkeley blow-out, with multiple marriages, a shocking familial reveal, and a hazy feeling that you’ve already forgotten the plot. If you like your truth-tartare not so, um, raw, The Liar’s got your dish.

The Liar, thru June 21 at Artists Repertory Theatre

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