The Liar at Henley Street Theatre

by Charles McGuigan

A Frenchman penned this play, forsooth;
James Rick has made it ring with truth,
Or mistruth, as the case may be,
In iambic reality.

From the opening scene to the bitter end, the audience is bathed in a flood of words delivered in iambic pentameter and the players, all, never miss a beat.

The story line is simple enough: Dorante, a mythomaniac, returns to Paris from law school, meets two women, Clarice and Lucrece, and begins weaving tangled webs of deception to gain the affections of Clarice. Unfortunately he mistakes Clarice for her friend Lucrece. Lies beget lies and in short order Dorante fabricates an expectant wife, which throws his loving father, Geronte, into a tail spin. Resolution arrives when Dorante comes clean. And all is well that ends well. Yet this is not a morality play-inspired work like some of Shakespeare’s comedies. There is no morality here. Just a rollicking good time.

James Ricks does it again with seamless direction and timing of Swiss-watch perfection. He knows the material inside out and outside in and is consistently flawless in his casting.
This version of The Liar is a “translaptation” (a portmanteau coined by its author) of a script written almost four hundred years ago by the French playwright Pierre Corneille. A couple years back David Ives rewrote this version of the play for the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. (which, incidentally, is where director James Ricks cut his theatrical teeth.) Ives took certain liberties. He added subplots, edited long speeches, changed characters for the sake of the comedy. Not a lie, not really. Just artistic license.

Each line is flawlessly delivered by every member of the cast. And remember it’s all done in rhyming couplets and each word is loaded with meaning and, more often than not, double meaning. Innuendo and repartee. Virtually every exchange elicits a chuckle, a laugh, a groan or a wide smile.
Matthew Mitchell, as Dorante, explodes on stage with boundless energy, and David Clark, who plays the manservant Cliton, is a cross between Falstaff and Sancho Panza. And this, too: like the father of this country, he cannot tell a lie, a magical counterpoint to the Liar himself. The two seem, and prove to be, cut from disparate parts of a similar cosmic cloth.

Oversensitive and overwrought, Kyle Butler plays Alcippe, the jealous suitor of Clarice, with slapstick flourishes and a crazed visage that make him just slightly larger than life. Irene Kuykendall and Olivia Luna portray the lovelies, Clarice and Lucrece, and each is suited for her role. And Geronte, Dorante’s doting father, is played to the hilt by Michael Hawke who actually skips with joy when he learns he is soon to be a grandfather. Though, of course, this turns out to be a lie.

Finally there is Stacie Reardon Hall who rings in with a stellar dual performance as the twins Isabelle and Sabine, who are the respective maids of Clarice and Lucrece. She is absolutely bi-polar in her portrayal of these polar opposites—one bawd and one prude—and it’s all done by donning a pair of glasses and grimacing instead of gushing, a theatrical sleight-of-hand skillfully performed.

Although there is no moralizing in this play, it does seem to be a social satire about the very nature of lies. It hints at a strange fact about lies: That they do lead to the truth. Had Richard Nixon not lied with unwavering consistency, the whole truth of Watergate may never have been fully revealed. Of course, plays are fiction and fictions are lies, but out of them come undeniable truths. Mark Twain said: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
Facts never mar this performance, where every line entertains. And that’s a fact; and that’s the truth.

The Liar
Henley Street Theatre
Through April 28
Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond CenterStage
$25-$35
(800) 514-3849 or www.HenleyStreetTheatre.org

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