MADISON, NJ – The rarely performed Cornielle comedy, “The Liar” is off and running at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.
Well, it’s really adapted from the 1643 comedy by Pierre Corneille. David Ives executed what he called “a translaptation,” combining both a translation and adaptation. According to Ives, that meant writing the play the way Corneille would have written it today, in English. And it works! Ives was also convinced that, like the original, it had to be done in rhymed iambic pentameter. While that sounds complicated, the end result is delightful, even when the hero, Dorante, exclaims towards the end, “I’m not going to rhyme.”
There are plenty of 21st century references in this convoluted farce of mistaken identities, misunderstood proposals and all sorts of buffoonery. Director Paul Mullins has kept this rollicking, raucous tale moving at top speed. If you miss a few nuances, so what?
The cast carries it off with aplomb, especially Brian Cade as Dorante and Kevin Isola as his servant, Cliton. Isola brings a devil-may-care quality and strong audience rapport to the role. Then we have Jim Hopkins as Dorant’s guillible father, Geronte. Hopkins is absolutely gleeful when Dorante, in trying to escape another predicament, tells his father he’s married and his wife is expecting a child. There’s almost a note of seriousness when Dorante attempts to explain to Cliton about the importance of being a liar and creating improbable tales.
Complicating the story are two fetching young ladies: Clarice, played by Jane Pfitsch and Lucrece, performed by Maya Kazan. There’s also confusion with their maids, Isabelle and Sabine, who happen to be twins. Katie Fabel does a star turn in this dual role.
Clark Carmichael, in his 10th season with the company, is the secret fiancés of Clarice. When he and Dorante engage in a fake duel for the same maiden, the scene is priceless. Philiste is played by James Russeell, who has been secretly courting Sabine.
Adding to the stylish aura of this production are a simple but elegant set by Michael Schweikardt, costumes in 17th century style by Candida K. Nichols and subtle lighting by Andrew Hungerford. The nighttime sequence, especially, brings out the glittering moonlight of a midnight assignation.
It seems Corneille was a lawyer in Rouen, who wrote both tragedies and comedies, including “The Theatrical Illusion” and “The Cid.” Ives won the Outer Critics Circle Playwriting Award for “All in the Timing” and “Time Flies.” He’s also the author of “Venus in Fur,” which has had a highly successful run on Broadway. Ives noted in one interview that finding this comedy was like discovering a lost Shakespeare work, such as “Twelfth Night” or “Much Ado about Nothing.” He has said, “The way the play’s wide understanding and humanity was nicely seasoned with several large pinches of social satire.”
The audience was obviously enthralled on opening night and the laughs just kept coming. “The Liar” is a must-see, full of surprises and beautifully performed. The play continues through July 29. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ. org.
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