By Tulis McCall
Some day I would like to take a stroll through David Ives‘ brain. On the other hand, perhaps I have. My first brush with him was at Classic Stage where Venus in Fur premiered in 2010 before it transferred uptown to The Friedman. Lies of the Saints was part of Primary Stages offerings last season. And School For Lies was produced at Classic Stage in 2011. Ives’ reach is vast and his timing is impeccable.
In this play he has translated Le Menteur By Pierre Corneille not only into English, but into iambic pentameter – usually a realm reserved for Shakespeare. It is a classic 17th century bushel of plots. Stranger in town, Dorante (Christian Conn) sets eyes on a beautiful woman Clarice (Ismenia Mendes) as she strolls through town with her friend Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow). Dorante is The Liar in question and proceeds to spin a tale of such magnitude that it has his spanking new manservant Cliton (Carson Elrod) gasping for breath. These two are a balanced pair as Dorante cannot tell the truth and Cliton cannot tell a lie. Both extremes serve to trip these two up.
Once smitten, Dorante is not certain of the name of his heart’s desire. Was it Clarice or Lucrece? It matters little, because the chase is on. Enter Alcippe (Tony Roach) who is more or less betrothed to Clarice – but the clock is ticking. Geronte (Adam LeFevre) Dorante’s father pops up out of nowhere to try and get his son to settle down – with whom is not so important as the fact the he does. Rushing back and forth between the two lady friends are their servants – identical twins of course – Isabelle and Sabine (Kelly Hutchinson) who run hot and cold respectively. Cliton has his eye on Isabelle, who returns his affection and then some, but he is nearly knocked out of the ball park as he bounces back and forth the between the sisters, innocent of the fact that they are two separate people.
Characters fly back and forth like so many badminton shuttlecocks. Plot takes second place to action. Belief is surrendered at the door, and all we have to do is follow along. Indeed we do, and it is a fine and funny ride. It does however, lack sparkle. Carson Elrod and Kelly Hutchinson provide plenty of zest, and you cannot take your eyes off them when they are onstage. But there was a missing element among the others. While all the performances are smooth, there is no one among the leads who stands out, who straps the story to their shoulders and pulls it along. As I was watching this production my mind kept wandering to School For Lies, which featured Hamish Linklater and Mamie Gummer who gave performances that were so sharp you could have gotten a paper cut just from watching.
Leaving this production the comment that I heard the most was, “I can’t believe they could memorize all that.” Which supported my feeling that most of the actors were not honed and polished sufficiently to make that elegant leap from words into character. Thus leaving us admiring of their skills but free of intimate connection. A technical triumph once removed.
The Liar, By David Ives, Adapted From The Play Le Menteur By Pierre Corneille, Directed By Michael Kahn
With Christian Conn, Aubrey Deeker, Carson Elrod, Kelly Hutchinson, Adam Lefevre, Ismenia Mendes, Amelia Pedlow, Tony Roach
Set Design Alexander Dodgecostume Design Murell Hortonlighting Design Mary Louise Geigeroriginal Music Adam Wernicksound Design Matt Stine
THE LIAR will perform at Classic Stage Company Tuesday through Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets from $60. For tickets, visit classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office (136 East 13th Street).