Is the winter getting to you? Are you suffering from the ice-and-snow blues?
Fortunately, you can shatter that chilly mood for at least a few hours of laughter and psychic sunshine. The Centenary Stage Company has launched a production of Pierre Corneille’s 17th century farce, The Liar, in a “translaptation” by contemporary playwright David Ives. Whatever you choose to call this marriage of translation and adaptation, you will find it delicious.
Originally written in 1643, the play tells a story which is essentially very silly, as a farce is meant to be. It centers on the exploits of Dorante, a handsome young man who, given the option to lie or to tell the truth, seems always to opt for the former. Newly arrived in Paris, he meets two lovely young ladies and wows them with tales of heroic exploits he makes up as he goes along. Inevitably, this being a farce, he confuses the names of the two women (Clarice and Lucrece), leading to inevitable romantic mayhem. (Left: Brian Sheppard is “Dorante” and Tom Morin is “Cliton”)
Dorante also acquires a servant, the clever and compulsively truthful Cliton. Cliton gets into his own romantic mixup, falling for a maidservant who is, unknown to him, one of a pair of identical twins. And it just goes from there.
The plot is really irrelevant. Along with Dorante and Cliton, there is Geronte, Dorante’s doting but somewhat doddering Papa, and Alcippe, Dorante’s exceptionally loud and bombastic friend. There are, in short, the right number of people so that everyone appropriately ends up paired with a member of the opposite sex.
But to me, this play is the greatest treat for linguaphiles, lovers of language, of which you can count me as one. Ives has rendered it into bright, brilliant verse, so witty that one may find oneself anticipating the next rhyme rather than the next event. When I eat an éclair, it’s the filling that I like best. If The Liar were an éclair, the rhymes would be that custard in the middle. Interesting, too, because when Cliton first announced that the story would be told in verse, I groaned inwardly. I didn’t think I’d like it. I was wrong. (Above: Erica Knight is “Lucrece”)
Director Carl Wallnau, masterful at presenting farce, handles this one with a perfect light touch. It is airy. It is fast. There is no time to get bored. Brian Sheppard is a delight as the mendacious Dorante, and Tom Morin (who dazzled Centenary audiences last year in the title role of The Cripple of Inishmaan) is superb as Cliton. And Phil E. Eichinger is a smashing, crashing comic as Alcippe.
Another star in this production is the beautiful stage set by Bob Phillips. A row of crystal chandeliers set the glittering mood, with simple arrangements of props, furniture, shrubbery and so on, demonstrating how less can be more.
One more note: four attractive non-Equity performers, representing citizens of Paris, dance around the stage, changing scenery so that it all seems perfectly normal. Like the rest of the production, they are light as air.
The Liar will be available at the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College in Hackettstown to help you fight the winter blues through March 9. Call 908.979.0900 or visit www.centenarystageco.org.
All photos by Bob Eberle