Scott W. Davis
Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The seventeenth century brought us a ton of talent. It started with Shakespeare and moved on to Moliere, both my favorite Renaissance playwrights. Shakespeare took England by storm while Moliere was one of three of the best French writers, joining with Racine, and yes Corneille. Pierre Corneille was born in 1606 in Rouen, France. At eighteen he actually studied to be a lawyer but proved extremely unsuccessful. He then turned to writing. His first show, “Mélite”, was performed by a traveling group that immediately added it to their repertoire. The show became a huge hit in Paris and Corneille was off as a writer.
The Liar, or Le Menteur, opened for the first time in Paris in 1644. It ran for ages without any changes, but in the 1800’s an un-credited 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. under the direction of Michael Kahn. This was the birth of the Liar as now performed.
The time is 1634 and the show opens with Doronte, a professional liar, meeting two women at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris. Unfortunately, Doronte gets the women’s names mixed up, one fair maiden becomes betrothed to another man, and the mix up creates all kinds of craziness. Does Doronte prevail and win the hand of the right women in the end?
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the acting area was the minimalistic set. There were a couple of benches and a pedestal center stage, and a scene setting up above one of the entrances, but that was it. Jac Alder went extremely stark on the set pieces. The set was painted in a very unrealistic way so as to add to the comedic value. Everything was painted in a base white but then glazed over with color to tint it ever so slightly.
The true brilliance of B.J. Cleveland was seen from the beginning. Clinton, Doronte’s butler, enters and proceeds to give the curtain speech the way a 17th century French butler would. It was written in verse, as close to Alexandrine as possible. Mr. Cleveland’s direction of this classic play was flawless. He stays true to the story as written. Yes, there were little things here and there that reminded we weren’t in the Renaissance era.
While his directing was great, the work of his design team matched his effort one hundred percent. Lighting, sound, and costumes supported the beauty of the show.
Amanda West’s lighting design transported the audience back in time with some interesting color mixing. While there was the normal warm and cool general wash to illuminate the acting area, it was the down lights’ saturated color that really made the scenes. Day or night, you could always tell the timeline throughout the play. The use of templates really helped enhance and give depth to the acting area. Another thing I loved was her use of isolation during the show. There were probably four to five entrances I never noticed because of it.
The sound design definitely helped keep things moving. Rich Frohlich added touches of underscoring music between scenes to keep things fresh. I was a little scared during preshow when I heard music that reminded me of a bad interpretation of the old band “Yaz”, but the minute the show started the music was well chosen and blended with each scene.
I have saved the best design for last. Bruce R. Coleman’s costumes amazed me. Each piece started out as white satin, muslin or corduroy. Mr. Coleman then created different color palettes for each character - purple, red and yellow, green, blue, etc. - by hand coloring them with paint or dye. Not only was I impressed by the craftsmanship that went into making them, the costumes looked incredible. You had to get up close to really see they intricacy in the costumes manufacturing. I was constantly looking at the amount of detail put into each costume. It’s been a long time since I was enamored by costumes like I was with these.
Another area where Mr. Cleveland’s direction shone was in his blocking. He kept the actors moving just enough to give the audience a 360 degree view of each scene, a pivotal task when doing plays in the round. And the casting was equally on target, every character being completely believable.
Clinton, portrayed by Michael Kreitzinger, is the first character to enter. Through the play he had the best facial expressions. I think I counted at least six exaggerated jaw drops in the first act alone, and each time I laughed. Mr. Kreitzinger played Clinton more on the masculine side, where his counterpart played a little more feminine, so that both played off each other well.
Kreitzinger’s counterpart, Doronte, is portrayed by Zak Reynolds. You believe in this character from the first moment you see him onstage. Mr. Reynolds glided across the stage like he was in the chorus of a musical. He was on stage almost the entire time. Reynolds never failed in his lines, and his flowing limbs accentuated the flow of his body as he flowed across the stage. I had a blast watching him.
Jenna Anderson plays Clarice, the girl Doronte mistakes for Lucrece, and hers is another performance worth applauding. Ms. Anderson was the best as far as projection went. She over-emphasized the part perfectly, making her character slightly annoying but hilarious at the same time. Liz Millea plays Lucrece, friend to Clarice. Wow, Ms. Millea’s made her presence known each time she hit the stage. What I loved about her performance was her ability to interact with every character on stage. With her height and beauty she was hard to miss, but it was her line delivery that impressed me the most. Impeccable. You rarely saw Clarice and Lucrece apart and that was a good thing. These two played so well off of each other it looked like they had known each other for years.
Isabelle and Sabine are both played by Suzanna Catherine Cox, and hers was another incredible performance. Mr. Coleman’s costume change for the two characters was a subtle removal of a lace piece over her bosom. The transformation had to be done by the actress herself and Ms. Cox was brilliant with it. She played Sabine as staunch, straight, and stern, each entrance almost a military march to her mark. Oppositely, Isabelle was loose and frolicked around the stage. What a wonderful job in contrasting these two parts.
Geronte is Doronte’s father and is portrayed by Bradley Campbell. The first thing I said to the person next to me was, “He’d be a great Charlemagne in Pippin”. A great, fabulously deep commanding voice came out of this actor. His spritely movements around the stage made the character seem a bit young for the part, but every time that thought came into my head his booming voice would come and change that.
Alcippe and Philiste are the last two in this interwoven comedy, portrayed by Dustin Curry and by David Goodwin respectively. These two play completely opposite characters. Alcippe is over the top in everything he does and Mr. Curry took the character to the edge and dangled him. Everything to Alcippe is the end of the world and Mr. Curry was brilliant in achieving that. In almost every entrance had him running in, and his ability to contort his face while others were talking to him had me rolling with laughter. Philiste, on the other hand, is a little more down to earth. I liked Mr. Goodwin’s performance equally, and he played extremely well off of Mr. Curry. Mr. Goodwin did a fabulous job playing a character that is more subtle and reserved, a performance sometimes more difficult than being the lead.
The Liar is a brilliantly written classic which one doesn’t get a lot of chances to see anymore. I have been a theatre history buff ever since college (a long time ago) and truly believe these plays need to be produced more so that the art form never dies. Theatre Three’s production is professional, funny, and extremely well done. The Liar is a wonderful piece of history brought back to life in the 21st century. Whether you are a theatre student, an actor, or a theatre lover, this should be a must on your list.