DAVID IVES ‘THE LIAR’ LANDS LAUGHS AND IS PURE FUN WITH WITTY RHYMED MADNESS
The Center Rep continues their 50th season as the music lowers and a smiling green haired young man in a bright fall colored costume bounds onto the stage and starts his monologue “put away your cell phones and candy.” Then he inspires us to turn off our brains along with our tech, and just laugh at the campy story we are about to see. His words rhyme, he says, “this show is all in pentameter.” THE LIAR is set off and running in Center Reps Company production of David Ives’ hilarious adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s timeless 17th century comedy on the Margaret Lesher stage through November 18th.
Directed by the Center Reps powerhouse Artistic Director Michael Butler who has assembled a marvelous cast of fast talking excellent actors to take this verbiage play to comic perfection. In one fast scene, we meet Dorante played by the terrific Jeremy Kahn who cannot tell the truth. He hires Cliton, his hopelessly honest servant, played by the endearing green haired Joseph Patrick O’Malley, and the frenzy confusion that arises when they team up to win their affections for two Parisian ladies and their distracted maids.
The seventeenth century was a playwright's haven - it started with Shakespeare and moved on to Moliere. Shakes took London by storm while Moliere was one of the best French writers, along with Racine, and Corneille. Pierre Corneille was born in 1606 in Rouen, France. At eighteen he studied to be a lawyer but failed; he then turned to writing plays. His first work “Mélite”, was performed by a traveling troupe that immediately became a huge hit in Paris and Corneille was crowned a success. THE LIAR, or Le Menteur, opened in Paris in 1644. It ran for centuries without any changes. Then in the 1800’s an English adaptation surfaced that was used for years. David Ives took on translating the original piece in the late 2000’s and premiered his work in 2010 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. This was the birth of THE LIAR as it is now performed.
Ives, whose plays include the smart Broadway hit Venus in Fur, writes witty, surprising, steamy rhymes. His verse is as absurdly funny as Corneille’s plot itself, loaded with sit com Shakes inspired mistaken identities, twin servant mix-ups and enough romantic madness to keep this farce on high energy throughout. Including the wonderful scene changes choreographed by the clever Cassie Nordgren to the catchy French inspired pop songs including Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking.” These incredibly entertaining scene changes are becoming a staple of Center Rep’s comedies - I first saw this earlier this season in the hilarious “Women in Trouble.”
THE LIAR’S full throttle humor stems from a nonstop flow of clever verbiage zestfully delivered by a vibrant cast that also includes the fanciful Monique Hafen Kelly as twin servants, Izzie and Sabine, one as strict as the other is loose. As fake news floods our headlines daily, the play’s fast paced story may not always seem as clever. Yet the high end excellent escapism of this romp makes a strong statement for pure fun. As Dorante proclaims “a liar’s contribution to the world, it shows us what might be and brings us joy.”
Butler directs with his trademark comic pacing and broadly camp approach to farce. The characters may be confused, but the actors playing them never miss a beat of the smart, loaded versifying in this two hour tomfoolery. On an open arena stage with a Paris avant garde slanted wall paper set design by Erik Flatmos, that creates a fun pit of props and set pieces for the cast of eight to play with. Butler gives his agile actors plenty of room to flash their swords, under Nordgren lively sword fight dances. The wow factor is all about Victoria Livingston-Hall’s colorful brilliance, the costumes looked incredible with plumed hats, canes, swooping dresses, velour jackets, sleek capes and divine wigs by Linda Nye. The bosoms highlight the two women's color scheme, and the twin maids are right out of “K pop” candy boxes with some lovely blue shoes that rival Dorothy’s trip to Oz.
This shamelessly seductive cast also includes the elegant jinxed Craig Marker as Alcippe who is the other suitor. Marker kept the sold out midweek audience giggling, chuckling and helplessly listening to some David Ives’ classic pro’s. Cliton, the servant, does his best to keep up with Doronte’s swaggering monologues of lies. He declares, “I don’t eat much/check my diameter; I work, I clean, I speak pentameter.” The witty O’Malley as the servant and narrator Cliton also rhymes “spectrum” and “rectum” when need be. O’Malley is also a charmer at breaking the fourth wall and bringing the audience into the insanity of lies.
Two stylish beauties out for a spring stroll and looking fancy fine in Livinston-Hall’s bright, playful period costumes are splendid on stage. Flirty and chatty Clarice played by the compelling Sharon Rietkerk and her quiet friend Lucrece played by a reserved Lyndsy Kail in wallflower about to explode mode, are instantly charmed by Dorante. Rietkerk and Kail played well off of each other, their comic timing kept the audience in giggle mode. Isabelle and Sabine are both played by Hafen, another incredible performance. Livingston-Hall’s costume change for the two maids was a subtle removal of a hair piece. The proud and confident, Kahn as Doronte yarns grand stories of military tales and juicy verses declaring his new love for Clarice, who he actually just met. We’re all taken in by this liar’s sheer shower of words and gabble, of course the ladies fall for him.
Geronte is Doronte’s father and is portrayed by Howard Swain with a great, fabulously commanding voice. His spritely movements around the stage keeping the older man wise for the part. Philiste is the last puzzle in this madness played by the elegant Teddy Spencer. These two play completely opposite characters. Marker as Alcippe is over the top in everything, he takes the character to the edge and dangles him. Everything to Alcippe is the end of the world and Marker was brilliant in achieving that. Philiste, is a little more down to earth and Spencer's dandy take, plays well off Marker’s sometimes emotional hilarious performance.
Award winning Kurt Landisman’s lighting design transported the audience back in time with some interesting color mixing yet at times still has a modern feel. While there was the normal warm and cool general wash to illuminate the acting area, it was the down stage lights’ saturated color that really made the scenes. Day or night, you could always tell the timeline throughout the play. Stage manager Kathleen J Parsons has to control many crazed entrances and those wonderful set changes set to lip syncing, dance and disco. Caruthers’ sound design definitely helped keep things moving with the added touches of clever music that keeps the cast hopping. The opening to the second Act is a surprise of music and pop added by Butler, played live by the cast and staged by Nordgren.
Does this tangled web of a plot ever resolve itself, we hope not, who wants to see the Liar ever be truthful. Seeing is believing and it’s great fun to watch the crazy plot unravel in such style. Butler’s direction of this classic play is flawless, he stays true to the story as written. The work of his design team matched his effort with eye catching lighting, sound, and costumes that support the beauty of the show. Center Reps Theatre production is professional as always, funny, and extremely well done. As I write up my top ten 2017 list for plays in the Bay Area, THE LIAR is on the top of my pick’s. Center Rep always brings the best to the their season and both the TBA’s and BAT Critics Circle are sure to honor this production. Don’t miss this romp, and remember come ready to have fun and save the “liar liar pants on fire” line for intermission.
The Center Repertory Company Presents
By David Ives, based on the play by Pierre Corneille
Directed by Michael Butler
Managing Director Scott Denison
Featuring; Monique Hafen*, Jeremy Kahn*, Lyndsy Kail*, Craig Marker*, Joseph Patrick O’Malley*, Sharon Rietkerk*, Teddy Spencer*, and Howard Swain*
Must Close Nov 18th
Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: $34-$56; 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org
Photos by: www.mellophoto.com
Center REPertory Company, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, is the resident professional theatre company of the Lesher Center for the Arts (LCA). Center REPertory Company’s mission is to celebrate the power of the human imagination by producing emotionally engaging, intellectually involving, and visually astonishing live theatre and, through our outreach and education programs, to enrich and advance the cultural life of the communities we serve. After 50 years, we’re just getting started!
THE FIRST LOOK PROGRAM
First Look Program Center REPertory Company is proud to offer its “First Look” program thanking US Military personnel and US Veterans and active college students $15 tickets to any preview performance of a Center REP show. All two year and four year College students, faculty, and staff with a school ID or any active military or veterans with appropriate ID can purchase a pair of $15 tickets to any Center REP preview performance. Present ID at the Ticket office window to receive discount. Preview performances are the first listed performances leading up to Opening night. The offer is subject to availability and is limited to two tickets.