One of Mark Twain's lesser-known works is called "On the Decay of the Art of Lying." In it, Twain laments that liars no longer tell their tales "thoughtfully, judiciously." Twain would be pleased to know that 135 years later, TheatreWorks does its part to revive the art.
The Liar serves up an accomplished cast doing a witty script, and the result is splendid theater. During my visit, the audience erupted repeatedly into spontaneous applause, and gave the actors an extended standing ovation at the final curtain. This is a comedy on steroids, producing nonstop laughter from the entrance of main character Dorante (John DiAntonio) on a two-wheeled scooter to a chaotic final scene featuring tongue tattoos.
Pierre Corneille's script was first performed in 1644; the TheatreWorks version is a 2010 translation and adaption by David Ives. Some might assume that an obscure, nearly 400-year-old script written in rhymed couplets would make for a dreadful show, but Ives has brilliantly updated and enhanced it, without sacrificing any of Corneille's original inspiration.
The titular character here is Dorante, and DiAntonio plays him as a lovable, dashing, narcissistic goofball. Dorante's lies are spectacular, but always delivered with sincere if phony conviction. DiAntonio's performance stands out, not just for his obvious acting skills, but also in the way he establishes a personal connection to the audience. He engages the front row with the same charm he uses to melt his love interests, Lucrece (Carley Cornelius) and Clarice (Anne Walaszek).
Cornelius and Walaszek are radiant in Hugh Hanson's period costumes. The ladies are naïve but deliciously devious, engaging in their own lies to trap Dorante, who has shifted into overdrive to get to them.
Dorante's hapless, truth-addicted valet Cliton (Sammie Joe Kinnett) is constantly amazed at his boss' fabricated realities. Kinnett has a gift for comedy, and he brings it to bear on every line he delivers. Whether he has a career ahead as a beatboxer — yes, he provides percussion here — remains to be seen, but I wouldn't bet against him if he goes for it. Caitlin Wise does double duty, playing twins Isabelle and Sabina, and she moves seamlessly between their respective personas of dominatrix and flirt.
It is the duel, though, between Dorante and Alcippe (Karl Brevik) that had the audience buzzing last week. Director Murray Ross has carefully blocked and tightly choreographed the fight scene. Lighting, sound effects, props, actors and script all come together marvelously.
Corneille's ending is a happy one, but highly contrived. Personally, I loved it. The Liar is not meant to be profound; rather, it is pure entertainment. If I have any regrets about this show, it's that I didn't take some friends along to enjoy it with me.