If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Westport Playhouse Opens with Ives Comedy

Stylish and buoyant, David Ives’ latest comedy, “The Liar”, is a jolly season-opener for the Westport Country Playhouse. The venerable theatre is currently enjoying its 85th anniversary with the play, Ives’ freely adapted rewrite of Pierre Corneille’s French farce about a lovelorn rogue prone to mendacity of the highest order.

Although set in 1643 Paris, “The Liar” has a contemporary flavor and owes a huge debt to the works of William Shakespeare, Moliere and Oscar Wilde among others. Ives misquotes and lifts effortlessly from these authors and their works including “Twelfth Night” and “The Importance of Being Earnest”. The supremely silly tale concerns Dorante (Aaron Krohn), who never met a story that he couldn’t twist into a pretzel and salt liberally with lies, and his newly hired manservant, Cliton (Rusty Ross), who is enlisted to help Dorante win the heart of Clarice (Kate MacCluggage). Dorante confuses names, however, and soon Clarice’s friend, Lucrece (Monique Barbee), along with their twin servants, Isabelle and Sabine (both played by Rebekah Brockman), are tossed into the mad mistaken identities plot. Did I also mention that Clarice is already engaged to Dorant’s good friend, Alcippe (Philippe Bowgen)? Yeah, it’s that kind of comedy.

“The Liar” is spoken, for the most part, in a series of rhyming couplets and under the brisk and fluid direction of Penny Metropulos, the actors feast on the material with skill and raw brio. Mr. Krohn is all-too-convincing as a superlative liar wallowing with delight in an ever-growing series of exaggerations and falsehoods. And Ross is winning as his honest servant who begs for a lesson in the art of lying and becomes quite a good student in the process. MacCluggage, who is remembered fondly for her roles locally in “Macbeth” at Hartford Stage and “Bell, Book and Candle” at Long Wharf, cuts a striking figure as the forceful Clarice and Brockman has a ball running on and off stage to let her hair down to play one twin while fashioning it into a bun for the other.

The play, itself, does seem like a one-joke effort after a while and Ives’ mostly witty dialogue isn’t always as clever as he seems to think it is. It may have been a long day for me, but I felt the comedy grew tiresome at the 90 minute mark. Some trimming and removal of the intermission could help. A minority view, I admit, since the opening night audience I sat with thoroughly enjoyed the nonsensical festivities unraveling on the Westport stage. Add in Kristen Robinson’s fanciful scenic design, Matthew Richards’ colorful lighting and Jessica Ford’s delicious costuming and “The Liar” is easily as good to see as it is to hear.

“The Liar” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through MY 23. For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at: 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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