“The Liar,” a seldom produced 17th-century French farce by Pierre Corneille about a carefree fellow’s blissful disregard for the truth, has been refashioned in a clever new adaptation written totally in verse by playwright David Ives (“Venus in Fur”) and staged with cheerful abandon by D.C.’s Shakespeare Theater Company.
Actually, describing Corneille’s fabled protagonist Dorante as simply a liar is like calling Renoir a sketch artist. Seldom has a character reveled so gloriously in the pursuit of preposterous prevarication, even while the impulse sinks him ever deeper into the muck. Now add to that Ives’ equally impish urge to repackage the tale in rhyme — the more unabashedly tortured the better — and the result is a blissful romp packed with shameless puns, wacky anachronisms and fanciful repartee. Example: “Champs Elysees, my friend, lies that-a-way/Unless the Louvre has mouvred since yesterday.”
An extremely capable troupe is led by Christian Conn as the wily protagonist who arrives in Paris with a sexual appetite and a succinct credo: That the “unimagined life’s not worth living.” Conn’s manic character is a wellspring of opportunistic chatter as he sets out to dupe les bonne femmes, assisted by the obedient but wary servant Cliton (an equally jaunty Adam Green), who also serves as the play’s narrator. Dorante quickly targets the fair Clarice (a perky Erin Partin), but mistakes her for her companion Lucrece (Mariam Silverman), which sets up the fast-moving story of grand schemes going awry.
Shakespeare Theater a.d. Michael Kahn is clearly drawn to the humorous yet touching story as well as Ives’ clever wordplay, and emphasizes both in this fast-paced production, which wraps in an even two hours.
It’s all dressed up in the finest of period frills concocted by costume designer Murell Horton, and showcased in the sumptuously rendered confines of Paris’ Place Royale and environs by set designer Alexander Dodge. Ives’ rollicking “Liar” makes a zesty interlude for theaters that favor the classics, propelled by its infectious demonstration of joie de vivre.