Smart, sexy and hilarious, Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s The Liar is a triumph
Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s nimble new production of The Liar is the sort of searing live comedy that blows all things digital right off the map. Every single actor in this splendid production is remarkable. That needs repeating. Each and every actor adds, and nothing interferes. Romping through a very brisk two and a half hours, the entire ensemble ran away with the audience on opening night. The play by David Ives (based on a 17th-century comedy by Pierre Corneille) offers a virtuoso weave of commedia dell’arte, SNL, and hip-hop.
We all know this guy—the liar, Dorante—an amiable arriviste who blows into town and wants to make things happen. With each person he encounters Dorante exaggerates and spins the truth further and further out of recognizable shape. Not out of malice, mind you, but essentially because he gets carried away. As the hyperbolic dandy Dorante, the beautiful Brian Smolin has more fun than should be legal, getting in and out of sticky situations by the seat of his beribboned pants. Meeting up with Dorante on his first day in Paris is the equally resourceful but pathologically honest Cliton (a flat-out brilliant Toby Onwumere), and the two join forces to woo a pair of beauties, one way or the other. But wait! Our over-confident liar gets his potential conquests confused, a situation blithely exploited by the playwright with a nod to Cyrano de Bergerac, and soon both women are after Dorante’s head. With his immediate, um, affections aimed at Lucrece (the juicy Sierra Jolene), the liar finds that he has mistakenly courted her best friend Clarice (the saucy Mary Cavett) instead. All hell breaks loose, especially since Dorante has told so many overlapping, interlocking lies to so many—including Clarice’s secret fiance, his dapper comrade in romantic crimes, and even his own father.
In the case of The Liar, art imitates art. Not only does playwright Ives reinvent Corneille’s original rhyming verse structure (so well that the fast-paced dialogue practically levitates), but he also threads the plot with enough silly innuendo that you’d swear it was ghostwritten by Shakespeare himself. Adding the exact tone of delicious devilry to the whole mix is actress Melinda Parrett, playing twin servants—one an uptight scold, the other a roaring hottie. (Pay attention—Parrett will play Lady Macbeth in the final play of the season.)
The Liar—liberally riffing on Corneille’s iambic pentameter—is loaded with enough wordplay to push any company of actors to their limits. And the cast nails it. So much fast-paced wit, with clever comedic gestures to match—it’s hard to believe our eyes. And ears. Each performer creates playful sizzle to season dialogue that bridges fancy-pants France and 21st-century vernacular.
Oh, the eye candy! David Mickelsen’s gorgeous period costumes showcase jewel-toned vanity. The guys swash and buckle in lavishly feathered hats, hose and doublets, capes, swords, high boots, and plenty of starched ruffles. The women’s gowns are sumptuous with cinched waists, hoop skirts and lace. Everybody gets to wear fantasy wigs. And the hats! Such foppish fashion, such Louis XIV Baroque excess, is a seriously chewy feast. Yet The Liar soars most on its text. Playwright Ives’ insanely funny script allows some of the “rhymes” to devolve into sitcom groaners. Dorante’s climactic confession actually stopped the show on opening night. Not since Richard Ziman’s Falstaff have I laughed so hard. Director Art Manke—whose Bach at Leipzig remains one of my fondest theater memories—took an exceptional cast and set it on fire. You always know what’s going on, and every minute of it is delicious. Strap yourself in. The Liar is a triumph—a show smart enough to disarm skeptics and sexy enough to delight audiences in need of pre-Candy Crush fun.
‘The Liar’ runs through Aug. 29. More info at santacruzshakespeare.org. COMEDY OF LIES Toby Onwumere (Cliton), Brian Smolin (Dorante), and Mary Cavett (Clarice) are captivating in Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s ‘The Liar’ by David Ives. PHOTO: SHMUEL THALER