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posted: 6/7/2013 6:00 AM

Writers' delectable 'Liar' a comedy worth savoring

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  • Nate Burger, left, plays the lying Dorante and LaShawn Banks plays his ever-truthful servant Cliton in David Ives' adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th century farce "The Liar," running through July 28, at Writers' Theatre.

      Nate Burger, left, plays the lying Dorante and LaShawn Banks plays his ever-truthful servant Cliton in David Ives' adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th century farce "The Liar," running through July 28, at Writers' Theatre.
    Photo by Michael Brosilow

  • Ann E. Thompson plays a lusty maid named Isabelle who is after LaShawn Banks' bewildered valet Cliton in "The Liar," a 17th century French farce updated by David Ives and running through July 28 at Writers' Theatre.

      Ann E. Thompson plays a lusty maid named Isabelle who is after LaShawn Banks' bewildered valet Cliton in "The Liar," a 17th century French farce updated by David Ives and running through July 28 at Writers' Theatre.
    Photo by Michael Brosilow

  • The deceptive Dorante (Nate Burger, right) duels with his hot-tempered friend Alcippe (Michael Perez, left) under the watchful eye of Philiste (Samuel Ashdown, center) in the farcical "The Liar," directed by William Brown for Writers' Theatre.

      The deceptive Dorante (Nate Burger, right) duels with his hot-tempered friend Alcippe (Michael Perez, left) under the watchful eye of Philiste (Samuel Ashdown, center) in the farcical "The Liar," directed by William Brown for Writers' Theatre.
    Photo by Michael Brosilow

  • Video: "The Liar' behind the scenes

 
 

Don't go looking for a lesson in "The Liar." You won't find one. The titular character tells you so himself.

"How liars are punished by their lies/is not the moral of this exercise," says consummate pretender Dorante, the genial rogue at the center of this comedy of manners written by French playwright Pierre Corneille in 1643 and delectably revised by American playwright David Ives in 2010.

Ives describes his version as a "translaptation:" "a translation with a heavy dose of adaptation." However one defines it, "The Liar" -- written in rhymed verse and sweetened with references both classical and contemporary -- is pure confection.

A cream puff of a comedy about a young man unable to tell the truth, its sly writing and rigorous plotting make for a tasty treat. It's currently on the menu at Writers' Theatre, under the direction of William Brown who, together with his first-rate cast, has whipped up a deliciously acted, riotously entertaining revival.

A social satire rooted in mistaken identities and misunderstandings, "The Liar" opens with the arrival in Paris of Dorante, a wealthy dissembler educated in the law who's played by Nate Burger. A most affable fabulist, Burger earns our affection with his facile performance and his innate sincerity.

Insisting that "the unimagined life is not worth living," Dorante spins yarns about everything from his ersatz wartime exploits to his imagined romantic conquests.

He employs as his valet Cliton (the likable, funny LaShawn Banks), an earnest young man who cannot tell a lie, and who -- as it turns out -- has more in common with his master than either realize.

Eager for female companionship in the form of a "a vestal virgin not averse to vice," Dorante spots Clarice (Laura Rook) strolling in The Tuileries with her reserved friend Lucrece (Kalen Harriman). He immediately pursues the flirtatious and frustrated Clarice, who happens to be secretly engaged to Alcippe (the comically volcanic Michael Perez), a nobleman known for his temper and an old friend of Dorante's.

Unfortunately, Dorante confuses the identities of the two women and pursues the wrong girl. Cliton is similarly befuddled. He begins a flirtation with Lucrece's lusty and willing maid Isabelle, then mistakes her for her identical twin sister Sabine, the severe, ever-disapproving servant of Clarice. Writers' newcomer Anne E. Thompson plays both roles, and her comedic tour-de-force performance, with its quicksilver transformations, makes for an impressive debut.

Meanwhile, Dorante's doting father Geronte (Jonathan Weir) tries to set up his son with the daughter of an old friend, a match Dorante wiggles out of by fabricating a pregnant wife in another city. Last but not least there's Alcippe's best friend Philiste (played with subtle perception by Samuel Ashdown), whose tousled hair, artfully knotted scarf and John Lennon glasses suggest a 17th century hipster.

To that end, designer Rachel Anne Healy incorporates into her period costumes modern flair, vis a vis knit caps and upturned collars. Those details, along with the occasional chest bump and other athlete-inspired celebrations, reflect the easygoing impudence that informs Brown's brisk, canny production which, for all its humor (and there is plenty), also boasts some genuinely emotional moments.

Ultimately, it's Ives' droll, literate, ever-playful dialogue that propels "The Liar." And yet, what would a farce be without physical comedy? Happily Ives supplies some in a brilliantly mimed duel between Burger's Dorante and Perez's Alcippe. Choreographed by Tyler Rich with sound effects by Andrew Hansen, this hugely entertaining sword fight sans swords is among the highlights of a show worth savoring.

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