Sunday, July 8, 2012


The temperature outside may have been close to 100 degrees, but the laugh quotient in the air-conditioned F.M. Kirby Theatre in Madison was at least double that as The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey performed a rollicking version of Pierre Corneille's comic romp of deception, mistaken identity and, yes, twin servants: The Liar. A playwright himself, David Ives (All in the Timing and the more recent Venus in Fur) has provided a translation of the 17th-century comedy filled with a slew of snide and sly comments equating the lying French arrivistes in the play with modern politicians, much to the audience's delight.

Liar_IMG_5852Dorante, the protagonist of the piece, is a liar—not a garden-variety fibber, but an Olympic-class liar, all too willing to pump up his résumé to impress a lady or invent a wife to get out of a marriage arranged by his father. Newly arrived in 1643 Paris from Poitiers, Dorante in short order acquires a valet (Cliton) who must always speak the truth, a woman to love, and a rival for her hand (his old friend Alcippe). But the path to true love will not be smooth for this scoundrel, thanks to mistaken identities and misunderstandings which only add to the hilarity. Further merriment (and confusion) is derived from two pairs of ladies, one noble and the other lower class, who manage to play with our hero's head and that of his faithful, if wise-cracking, valet. It would be too rich (and too difficult) to spoil the fun by giving away more of the convoluted plot. (Above: Kevin Isola, Jane Pfitsch and Brian Cade)

Once again, Paul Mullins (Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Noises Off) demonstrates his deft direction of farce, maintaining the tight rhythm so the holes in the story seem like pinpricks and the characters appear to believe that what they're doing and saying is rational. He has assembled a terrific cast to pull off the stunt; several actors you'll recognize from other bouts of mayhem on the STNJ stage. Two are new to the troupe; hopefully, we'll see them in future productions.

Liar_IMG_1032As the liar in question, Brian Cade exudes the appropriate arrogance and imperiousness to pull off his fabrications, witness his recitation of his war exploits, an account of a river barge seduction and his recollection of the events that led to his marriage to a gypsy maiden in Poitiers after her father found him in her bed. Adding "sauce to a spicy dish" and appearing to make it up as he goes along, he deliciously out tall-tales Paul Bunyan! Evidently he's convinced his father Geronte that he's telling the truth; Jim Hopkins (above, left, with Brian Cade and Kevin Isola) plays the old man as a rather incredulous doofus intent on his son's making a good marriage and providing him with a grandchild.

Liar_IMG_5770The two women, Clarice (played by Jane Pfitsch, center left) and her BFF Lucrece (played by Maya Kazan, far left), don't completely buy Dorante's baloney, although Lucrece falls for the hustler despite his failings. Pfitsch's Clarice is a no-nonsense young woman, tired of waiting for her two-year-long engagement to lead to the altar but not above taunting her jealous lover unmercifully. Kazan's Lucrece may be shy and retiring, but once she lets loose after being insulted by Dorante as a "clam/mollusk/bivalve," she gets a bit of her own back. She will be some match for, in the words of Philiste, this "brilliant adaptor"!

The foot-dragging fiancé in question is Alcippe, played with blatant jealousy by a magnificent Clark Carmichael. He boils over into a hysterical tantrum, punctuated by reiterating "snap, snap, snap, snap" and stamping around the stage in a rage. The duel between him and Dorante brings down the house, as does the fraternity handshake they share. James Russell supplies great support as his friend Philiste, and Katie Fabel (above, right) does double duty as Isabelle and Sabine, the twin servants to Lucrece and Clarice, respectively. She gets great comic mileage out of the addition of a neckerchief and a concomitant switch of demeanor.

Liar_IMG_1014But it is Kevin Isola (Accidental Death of an Anarchist) as the overly truthful valet Cliton (right) who comments on the pandemonium being unleashed onstage. He gets to utter many of Ives' incredible rhymes ("verbal diarrhea" and "idea," "spectrum" and "rectum" are just two), lets the audience in on the use of pentameter and engages in a great deal of physical comedy—all with aplomb, telltale facial expressions and great comedic timing. And he points out the toll taken by lying to one's inner self and points up the connection between deceit and politics. Delightful!

Yet despite these outstanding performance, it is Ives' literate script that is the star of the play. He manages to weave in contemporary references effortlessly while maintaining the rhymed couplet and five-footed line: witness a reference to Dorante's "inner multiplex" and Cliton's asking, "What's the twitter?" References to Shakespeare and the theater make this a meta-play too (much like Hamlet) and only add to our pleasure.

Dorante says that The Liar knows the truth, shows us "the real commedia" and must speak with an air of conviction. No wonder he plans to emigrate to America and become a politician! The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's sparkling production of this 400-year-old play once again reminds us of the timelessness of theater and its connection to the real world. A good lesson that's never too late to be learned, for sure.

The Liar will be performed at the F.M. Kirby Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison through July 29. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 PM; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM; and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 PM. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.408.5600 or visit online at

There will be a post-show symposium on July 10 and July 14 and 21 (matinee performances). Know the Show will be offered on Thursday, July 12, at 7 PM. There will be an audio-described performance on July 21 at 2 PM.