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Theatre Review: 'The Liar' Gets A Witty, Modern Adaptation

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The Antaeus Company has delivered a sparkling production of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century play The Liar. It's a brilliant modern adaptation by David Ives and is one of the wittiest things I've seen in years. The downside of being a theatre company that specializes in the classics, such as the Antaeus Company, is that, rightly or wrongly, it accrues a sense of gravitas that might not, to a random prospective theatergoer, imply fun. It's admirable that even though Antaeus has long been one of the most lauded and entertaining theatre companies in town, they are still trying to be even more accessible to the general audience.

In the play, it hasn't even been a day since con-man Dorante (Graham Hamilton) is in town; he has already acquired a manservant named Cliton (Brian Slaten) and has attempted to woo the lissome Clarice (Kate Maher). Clarice already has a fiancé—the ridiculously jealous Alcippe (Joe Delafield)—and dismisses Dorante's actions as nonsense. However, her friend Lucrece (Ann Noble) finds herself attracted to the stylish fraud. Unfortunately, Dorante hasn't even taken note of Lucrece, because he's more concerned with escaping the proposed marriage set up by his doting father Geronte (Robert Pine), which would ruin all of his plans.

Antaeus generally double-casts its shows, and this review is from a performance that mixed the two casts. Hamilton is superb as Dorante, a character equally in love with fabrication and himself, with a performance of high physical energy and verbal dexterity that's a joy to witness. Slaten is excellent as the long-suffering Cliton, and Maher is a delightful mix of insouciance and frustrated rage as Clarice. Delafield is appropriately over-the-top as Alcippe and Noble is charming and funny as Lucrece. Pine creates a sense of palpable decency as Geronte, and Karen Malina White is slyly amusing as twin servants Isabelle and Sabine.

Director Casey Stangl keeps the pacing brisk, as befits a farce, and her staging uses the space gracefully, a mock swordfight that ends up in the audience as a particularly inspired moment. As great as this production is, it's David Ives's adaptation of Corneille's original play that is the true star. Not only is the whole thing translated from French to English and the humor is modernized, but also it's all in verse. It's not surprising that Ives, who has distinguished himself with many comedic works, is exceedingly funny, but his command of rhyme is extraordinary. As I watched the show, I kept finding myself smiling at the dazzling wordplay. Antaeus has done it again, and you owe it to yourself to check it out and have some fun.

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"The Liar" plays at the Antaeus Theater through Dec. 1. Tickets are available online.