- Owen Carey
- The Liar gets laughs—SMART, sophisticated, European laughs! (Also fart jokes.)
Closing out this season with a period piece, Artists Repertory Theatre presents one of American playwright David Ives' modern "translaptations" (his portmanteau: translation + adaptation) of a 17th-century French comedy. The Liar, by French tragedian Pierre Corneille, thought lost to the ages, was unearthed by the National Shakespeare Company and presented to Ives for adaptation—no easy feat for a foreign script penned in iambic pentameter. The Liar debuted in 2010, but this is its Northwest premiere, helmed by Artists Rep Artistic Director Damaso Rodriguez.
The Liar opens in 1643, as voracious young bachelor Dorante returns to Paris with his aging father, Geronte. While Geronte seeks a suitable and noble wife for his son, Dorante begins a gluttonous and lustful hunt for available local temptresses the only way he knows how: by lying. He meets Cliton, a young and compulsively honest servant in need of work, and hires him on immediately, setting a compulsive liar and his honest-to-a-fault butler against a 2D backdrop of old Paris. Spoiler alert: FARCICAL FRENCH HILARITY ENSUES!
Spinning tall tales of wealth and a history of "many years of battle in Germany" (he's actually just a smug law student on the prowl... sound familiar, Reed alumni?), Dorante locks hearts with Clarice (the flawless Amy Newman); she's enchanting and mordant and secretly engaged to Dorante's childhood best friend, Alcippe (played with hilariously flamboyant emotionality by Gilberto Martin Del Campo.)
Due to a case of mistaken identity, Dorante accidentally bombards Clarice's confidant, Lucrece, with his passionate love letters and promises of a brighter future intended for Clarice. With dazzling twists of erudite wit, Dorante tricks everyone into his pity-web of hand-crafted reality—"a feature of his inner multiplex," as Cliton puts it. A fake marriage to an imaginary pregnant bride, a secret late-night rendezvous with exotic fruit on the River Seine, identical twin maids with opposite personalities. "What things," Dorante inquires, "aren't possible in God's creation... without a little push from the imagination?"
Eventually, his slyness gets the best of him and his ruse comes quickly unglued. I was skeptical about how long my interest would hold, but the carefully-crafted comedic moments made for a cohesive, lightning-fast experience. It was also extremely refreshing to see Artists Rep's record of diverse casting hold strong in a period piece, with the luminous, hilarious Chantal DeGroat as Lucrece, and the always-vivacious Vin Shambry as Philiste.
The Liar is a seriously funny rollercoaster of circumstance that held laughs (not just cheap ones, either: SMART, sophisticated, European laughs! Also fart jokes) and attention for each poetic couplet, which flowed like bearable slam poetry. Chris Murray plays Dorante with an honesty that transcends the long wig and feathered hat, hurling the character's bro-ish, sleazy artifice straight into the 21st century—his braggadocio reminds us that "Liars aren't born, they're fabricated." The cast and crew made Ives' translaptation alive and engaging, with nary a stutter throughout. With a modern lean and a tight cast, it's clear why The Liar remains one of the western world's greatest comedies.
Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison, Wed-Sun 7:30 pm and Sun 2 pm, through June 21, $25-46, artistsrep.org