“The thing I’m not will make me live.”
San Diego’s David Ives Victory Tour continues at Scripps Ranch Theatre with his re-invigoration of Pierre Corneille’s 1643 comedy.
As with Venus in Fur at San Diego Rep. and The School for Lies at North Coast, The Liar is a verbal tour de force. Ives combines sophisticated, iambic pentameter lines with contemporary slang and flashy rhymed couplets. It’s as if two versions of the play take place at once: 1643 and 2014. They combine Corneille’s formal wooing with today’s boundary-free free-lancing.
Jacinda Johnston-Fisher’s costumes combine then and now, often vertically: Cliton the valet, for example, wears blue jeans under a modest brown, period shirt; Geronte is period from the waist down; a blazing red coat on top. Andy Scrimger’s sleek, eggshell-colored set would have served M. Corneille as well as it does Ives.
Dorante and his valet, Cliton, are like Jack Sprat and his wife. Cliton cannot tell a lie, even when coached by a pro prevaricator.
And Dorante? Well, the world’s just too drab. A compulsive liar, the “Master of the air-tight alibi” can’t help but “fabulate.” Even “when someone’s got a juicy tale to dish,/I have to add some sauce, re-spice the fish.”
Fortunately for — and maybe Ives’ sad comment on the world? — people accept tall tales uncritically. People yearn to believe — or as a cynical friend observed, “make it cohere, and they’ll follow you anywhere.”
So Dorante comes to Paris (he says the war's in Germany — yeah, right…) and messes up. He falls for the lively Clarice, whom he thinks is her cousin, the withdrawn Lucrece.
But Clarice — not she of the fava beans and “a nice Chianti” (though Ives’ might have relished the connection) — is engaged to Dorante’s best friend, Alcippe. Plus, Dorante’s out-of-touch father wants him to marry Clarice. Much of the play’s fun is how Ives and Corneille unravel Dorante’s tangled webs woven by deception.
For Scripps Ranch, talented director Robert May shows an affinity for the language(s) and the physical comedy the script requires. Special credit to fight choreographer Lance Smith for a hilarious, mimed swordfight/steeplechase all over the wide set, and to Ryan Andrews (Dorante) and Steve Hohman (Alcippe) for the ESPN-like, thrust-and-parry commentary.
Make no mistake, this is a very funny show. The night I caught it, however, heavy-handed readings, too loud for the space, were a persistent problem. Much of the comedy lies in the author’s off-the-cuff brilliance. Since lightness is the key, so actors giving 100% come across as pushy — 80% would be more effective.
Best of show: as Cliton, Steve Smith made for an engaging narrator and put-upon valet. Fleet of foot and voice, Smith always let the audience come to him.
Along with Tim West as an addled Geronte and Jarret Addleman’s Philiste, Taliesen Rose and Rhianna Basore do fine work as the extroverted Clarice and introverted Lucrece. Denae Steele plays the twin maids Isabelle and Sabine, the one as liberated as the other is locked down – is the former today’s version of the latter?