By David Ives
Adapted from Pierre Corneille’s Le Menteur
Directed by Ed Rutherford
Produced by Promethean Theatre Ensemble
Playing at Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
True or False, The Liar is Great Fun
I’d be lying if I said Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s current production of David Ives’ The Liar isn’t two-plus hours of entertainment: it is. A farcical comedy about a veritable liar named Dorante, The Liar tells the story of how this fellow’s mendacious tales and amorous schemes twist a torturous plot right into the arms of—the woman he didn’t know he loved. Full of farcical plot twists, outlandish lies, and gags on mistaken identity, The Liar is a clever, funny, and compulsively entertaining play.
Newly arrived in Paris, the young law-school student Dorante (Josh Hambrock) wastes no time in searching for a “squeeze.” After a brief but passionate run-in with a young, witty woman named Clarice (Meghann Tabor) and her quiet friend Lucrece (Katherine Schwartz), Dorante decides to pursue the young beauty with the help of his enlisted wingman Cliton (Brendan Hutt). Which young beauty, you ask? Well, mistaking Clarice for Lucrece—by the end Dorante himself doesn’t even know!
Things might have gone smoother for Dorante’s courtship—after all, his father Geronte (Michel Hagedorn) does tries to marry him to his desired woman Clarice—but Dorante’s incorrigible penchant for weaving fantastic tales only serves to confound his course, unbeknownst to him. For example, to get out of his father’s arrangement with “Clarice,” Dorante invents a gypsy wife for himself—who then turns out to be pregnant—maybe—in the future. It’s complicated, as all such imaginary lives are.
Dorante’s lies even get him into a duel with his childhood friend Alcippe (Shane Roberie), the fawning admirer and would-be fiancé to Clarice, after Dorante inexplicably assumes responsibility for a late-night tryst with the woman—neither realizing she is Alcippe’s love interest nor that she is actually the woman he too desires. The duel is resolved amicably, you could say—with honestly the best concept of stage combat I’ve seen. And so, too, is the story as a whole, happily resolved, complete with tales untwisted, surprises unveiled, and perhaps even an honest turn for our fabulous fabulist.
Though at points The Liar’s plot can be confusing, like a Shakespearean play might be, and its language is verbose, quick-paced, and consisting of uncommon diction—like with a Shakespearean play, it all gets clarified in the end and whatever difficulty one may suffer in comprehension, it never really interferes with the play’s consistent, entertaining command on one’s attention. And that, I think, is saying something.
I myself am not a fan of stiltedly “period,” ribald farces—but this one won me over rather quickly. Some of this may be due to Ives’ adaptation, but I’m more inclined to give credit to Director Rutherford’s direction and the cast’s performances that kept the acting grounded even in the midst of the patently ridiculous. Josh Hambrock’s Dorante is remarkable: he gets into his role body and soul with the sweat and agility of a boxer, blotting his brow between rounds of his full-contact performance. Other notables include Michael Hagedorn, the father, whose eyes and face are a book on acting credulity; and Megan Delay, who plays two twins of polar personalities with comedic gusto—and quick costume changes.
Respect ought to be paid to the design of the play, as well, for certain aspects I found particularly striking. One is the costume design by Gary Nocco: the costumes of the women were highly imaginative and ornate, with little touches like a miniature hat (the men’s costumes, by comparison, were unremarkable); I can’t say it made the play any better, but they were truly fantastic to behold. And second, the set design by Jeremy Hollis that included a large curtain and walls jaggedly papered like, to my mind, a gift box. I’m not sure what the intended effect was, but, again, it captured my imagination and drew me in immediately. Really lovely.
To conclude: Promethean Ensemble Theatre’s current production of The Liar is a treat for the senses—especially if your sense of comedy inclines to farce—and the perfect pick-me-up of entertainment to help escape from the cold and dreary spring showers.
Playing at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $17 – $27. For tickets and information, call the Athenaeum Theatre box office at 773-935-6875, or visit PrometheanTheatre.org. Performances are Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through May 27th (Note: Industry night is Monday, May 8th at 7:00 p.m.). Running time is 135 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.