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Pants Smoking But Not on Fire: Classic Stage Company’s ‘The Liar’

January 26th, 2017 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

1. Tony Roach, Christian Conn, and Carson Elrod in 'The Liar' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

1. Tony Roach, Christian Conn, and Carson Elrod in ‘The Liar’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The gods of irony must have been smiling as I left the Women’s March in midtown to trek down to East 13th Street’s Classic Stage Company in time to catch the matinee of a play called, of all things, The Liar. This is David Ives’s spirited version of Pierre Corneille’s 1643 comedy Le Menteur, set in its original time period but sprinkled with contemporary references. Ives’s verbal liberalism allows for the interpolation of at least one political zinger when the eternally fibbing hero, Dorante, says, toward the end, “I’ll emigrate and become a politician.” It gets the purest laugh of the show.

The Liar is the only comedy by Corneille, who, with Jean Racine, is one of France’s two greatest neoclassical tragic dramatists. Rarely done in English, it has experienced a spate of American productions since Ives prepared what he calls a “translaptation, i.e., a translation with a heavy dose of adaptation,” written in rhyming pentameter for Michael Kahn’s 2010 production at Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Ismenia Mended and Amelia Pedlow in 'The Liar.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog)

Ismenia Mended and Amelia Pedlow in ‘The Liar.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog)

The chief enjoyment lies in Ives’s notable deftness at writing entertainingly clever rhymes, often with corny groaners accompanied by a self-deprecating tone showing just how much he’s aware of his own outrageousness. He also doesn’t hesitate to make the punny language thoroughly contemporary by using expressions like son of a bitch and schmuck.

The plot circles around Dorante (Christian Conn, of the 2010 production), newly come to Paris, who immediately falls for Clarisse (Ismenia Mendes) but confuses her name with that of her friend Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow). This leads to a series of conventional complications involving another suitor for Clarice’s hand, Alcippe (Tony Roach).

Meanwhile, a third young dandy, Philiste (Aubrey Deeker), finds himself involved, partly as a raisonneur and partly as a lover. The presence of Dorante’s anxious father, Geronte (Adam LeFevre), helps increase the tension until, in one of those classic examples of tying multiple plot strands together, the play concludes with smiles, hugs, and the imminent promise of wedding bells.

Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod in 'The Liar.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod in ‘The Liar.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Like so many other commedia dell’arte-influenced plays of its time, The Liar is replete with romantic mix-ups, confused identities, twins (two pairs, in fact, including one of the long-lost variety), and a silly servant who is actually one step ahead of his master.

In addition to Clarice and Lucrece, the female characters (whose portrayals are all first-rate) include temperamentally opposite twin sisters played by the same actress, Kelly Hutchinson: Isabelle is sexually voracious while Sabine is puritanical. All, happily, are vividly outspoken. Clarice’s frankness, in fact, resembles that of Kate in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. And speaking of the Bard, be it noted that Ives’s dialogue is rife with lines mirroring those from his plays and sonnets.

The Liar’s central conceit is that its title character, Dorante, is congenitally unable to tell the truth, thereby inspiring reams of imaginative dissembling that give the actor playing him delicious opportunities for displays of verbal and physical dexterity. Dorante’s manservant, Cliton (Carson Elrod), on the other hand, is incapable of mendacity; he, too, gets juicy chances to humorously express his defining trait.

Michael Kahn, again at the helm, makes attractive use of Alexander Dodge’s three-quarters-round set of a pale blue parquet floor backed by an elegant wall painted with pixel-like dots and enhanced by flown-in chandeliers and romantic portraits. Kahn’s staging is full of bright ideas, a memorable example being a sword-less duel between the rival lovers.

Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting helps bring out all the charm in the pretty period costumes of Murell Horton, most of the men in dashing, plumed-hat, high-booted, musketeer-like fashions, the women in silks, lace, jewels, and décolletage. (Both Dodge and Horton also designed Kahn’s 2010 version.)

Kahn’s sprightly troupers, attacking the play as high farce, race along with energy and flair, getting the fun from every pun, and making the two hours pass agreeably enough. Truth be told, though, for all the skill and effort expended, The Liar remains on the pleasantly amusing side of the comedy scale, rarely tipping toward hilarity.

The Liar
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th St., NYC
Through February 26

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

Review: It’s Apparent… Go See “The Heir Apparent”

April 17th, 2014 Comments off

Contributor Melissa Firlit gets a belly full of laughs at Classic Stage Company’s production of  The Heir Apparent.

The cast of "The Heir Apparent" at Classic Stage Company (photo: Richard Termine) via The Broadway Blog.

The cast of “The Heir Apparent” at Classic Stage Company (photo: Richard Termine) via The Broadway Blog.

The Heir Apparent, originally written by Jean-Francois Regnard in the early 18th century and adapted by the smart and savvy David Ives, is a refreshing and boisterously funny night at the theater. Ives takes a tale that is familiar and gives it new life—one that is well appreciated by the audience, whose faces contort with laughter throughout Classic Stage Company’s production. Ives’ ability to play with language astounds with verse that has the audience laughing at the play on stage as well as themselves.

This is a classic story places Geronte—a greedy, rich old uncle who is at death’s door has no heir to his fortune—at the plot’s center. Ailed with pains and coughs, he makes an arrangement to marry the young beauty Isabelle, the daughter of the strong willed and controlling Madame Arante. Isabelle is supposed to be the fiancé of Geronte’s nephew, Eraste. Madame Arante agrees to allow Eraste to win Isabelle’s hand in marriage if he can get his uncle to sign over his fortune. With the help of his two sidekicks Crispin and Lizette, Eraste tries every plot imaginable to get his uncle to name him the sole heir.  Through smart theatricality, mistaken identity and classic comedic bouts, the play takes us on a hilarious journey that ends in happily ever after.

"The Heir Apparent" at Classic Stage Company (photo: Richard Termine) via The Broadway Blog.

“The Heir Apparent” at Classic Stage Company (photo: Richard Termine) via The Broadway Blog.

Direcotr John Rando extracts amazing work out of this terrific ensemble. The cast is sharp in their storytelling and clearly having a great time taking the audience on this romp. Crispin, played by Carson Elrod, has amazing physicality, vocal variety and comedic timing. Suzanne Bertish as Madame Argante mesmerizes us with her greed and wonderful way with words. Lizette, played by Claire Karpen, is funny, warm and keeps everyone in line with great quips and sassy authority. Amelia Pedlow plays the young ingénue Isabelle with a strong backbone that is pushed through this story because of her eager love for Eraste. Dave Quay as Eraste is smart, loving and will stop at nothing to get the fortune and the girl. The greedy miser Geronte, played by Paxton Whitehead with great ease in all of his discomforts and selfishness. Lastly, Scruples, deliciously played by David Pittu, is brilliant. Scruples is like adding ice cream to cake—it only makes it better.

The design team is one of great theatrical collaboration: David C. Woolard’s costumes are loud, appropriate and completely serve the need of each character; John Lee Beatty’s set is a well-thought understatement to let the play soar; the lighting is clean and practical by Japhy Weideman; and Nevin Steinberg has designed a collection of bizarre, quirky sounds that somehow feel justified within this world. His pre-show and post-show music are pure joy to hear and capture the essence of the evening.

The Heir Apparent is for anyone who is in need of a fun-filled time at the theater. It is a delightful feast for those who are hungry for laughs.

 

The Heir Apparent
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street
Through May 4

Melissa Firlit is a freelance theatre director and teaching artist in the New York City area. She received her MFA from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts. 

SHOW FOLK: David Ives on “Venus”, Dirty Books & Calls from Sondheim

May 9th, 2012 Comments off

Nina Arianda & Hugh Dancy in "Venus in Fur". Photo by Joan Marcus.

“There’s nothing in that.”

Those were the sage words of advice David Ives received from his father as the young playwright headed off to the Yale School of Drama. We should all have such nothing. With a career spanning influential comedies like All in the Timing and acclaimed translations of classics like the Moliere “rewrite” School for Lies, to his current Tony-nominated, Broadway hit Venus in Fur, Ives has proven those words wrong and made a life working in the theater.

During a recent discussion moderated by famed critic John Lahr at the 92nd Street Y Tribecca, Ives opened up about the highs and lows of his career in sparklingly articulate and, at times, raucously deadpan stories — from his tragically lost first play to his current much-anticipated collaboration with Stephen Sondheim.

On his unfortunate debut as a playwright: 

I got bitten by the theater bug quite early and I wrote my first play when I was nine. I took this three hundred page, sort of noir novel out of my parents’ library and I turned it into a ten minute play. For my cub scout troupe. I was going to play the lead, of course, and all my friends were going to play the secondary roles which were much smaller. But what I didn’t know is that everyone in the play has to get a copy of the script. And so I learned my lines, I passed the script on and he lost it. And it was probably my best work ever. I’m still looking for it.

On the thrill of discovering his love for theater:

The stinger really stuck in my flesh when I was seventeen and I went to see Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in A Delicate Balance. It came through Chicago. I well remember the sensation that I had sitting in the front of the balcony for $3.65 and watching Cronyn & Tandy and feeling like I was in the front car of the Cyclone in Coney Island. Because I had never seen anything like this, something so extraordinarily passionate and eloquent. I might as well have just gone home that day and written my parents a note that said, “Dear Mom & Dad, I’m going to be a playwright. Nothing can stop me.”

Read more…

Sondheim Reveals New Show, Chita Rivera Returns & More Theater News

March 2nd, 2012 Comments off

Extra! Extra! We’ve got your quick and tasty theater news headlines for the week that was:

  • The First Lady of high kicks Chita Rivera will return to Broadway next season in the first-ever revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the choose-your-own ending Tony winner for Best Musical 1986.
  • Hollywood heat-seekers Justin Long (Going the Distance, Mac commercials) and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) will be taking over the lead roles in the hit comedy Seminar beginning April 3.
  • The King of creepy/awesome children’s literature Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is making it to Broadway as the critically-acclaimed West End adaptation of Matilda The Musical jumps across the pond for a 2013 debut.