I’m a sucker for exposed brick. That was one of my first thoughts as I walked into the Woolfe Street Theater to watch The Liar on its opening night. Owned by The Village Repertory Company, the theater, still in its first year and a work in progress, is gorgeous, all stained wood and rich colors.
As we walked in further, the set was no different, though perhaps a bit more shabby chic than I would have expected of the French Aristocracy in 1643. The two-story set was simple and elegant, with just a few props to indicate scene changes along the way.
So much of The Liar, in fact, was all about visual beauty, both in reality and in theme. As the cast took the stage, the costumes were striking. The men, dandies all, wore glitter and glitz and — gasp — tights! The women, corseted within inches of their ability to draw breath and bursting out of the tops of their dresses, were cloaked in rich fabrics and beautiful dresses that I found myself wanting to borrow.
The Liar was originally written by Pierre Corneille in the mid-1600s as France’s answer to Shakespeare’s comedies — think A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s hijinks, or The Twelfth Night’s mistaken identities. It was recently translated and adapted for the contemporary stage by playwright David Ives.The adaptation includes plenty of anachronisms — a firm but funny reminder at the beginning to turn off cell phones, for instance, still written in the iambic pentameter rhyme that flows through the vast majority of the play, and a well-played, well-received joke about a certain philandering former governor. The language is often lovely, sometimes lyrical, and also speckled with fart jokes. In short, there’s something for all humor levels here.
The plot begins simply enough: compulsive liar Dorante arrives in Paris and falls in love with Lucrece, or so he thinks. Hijinks ensue, amplified by his frequent and far-flung tall tales. Lucrece isn’t who he expects, though, and between a beggar-turned-valet, twin maids turning heads, and a jilted lover, there’s a lot going on at all times.
There is an initial shock at hearing people speak in verse, though the actors do a great job of not speaking in sing-song. But that shock soon falls away as the actors go to work with sharp tongues and well-timed physical comedy.
What stuck with me most of all was the beauty of The Liar’s world. The actors are as attractive as the costumes that cover them. Young Stowe as Cliton might as well be a young Leo DiCaprio with a slouchy hat and the body language of an accomplished comedian. The ladies (Charley Boyd, McKenna DuBose, and Haydn Haring) all look stunning in their period dresses, but their beauty does nothing to squash the strength of their characters, and the actors playing them.
I could have done without a bit of the slapstick. An overdone handshake between Dorante and the overly dramatic Alcippe was perhaps a tad much, although their imaginary duel with imaginary swords was silly and fantastic.
I had the pleasure of sitting near director Cristy Landis, who was also kind enough to greet me as I entered. It was fun to peek back as she watched the story she directed come to life. More than once I caught her mouthing the words, displaying a passion for the play that was lovely to witness. The actors, too, clearly loved the material, and more than once I thought about how fun rehearsals must have been.
If you have a chance and like fancy dresses, do go see The Liar. It’s a few hours of escape from reality, with a ton of laughs along the way.