Compass Rose Theater’s production of The Liar is a hilarious farce with a great deal of charm. Written by acclaimed Restoration French playwright Pierre Corneille in 1642, it became his most famous comedy; Richard Wilbur translated it into English in modern times. Directed by Steve Tobin, it is a great show to kick off Compass Rose’s seventh season.
Mark Frazier plays the title character, Dorante, with a sly wit and bold charm. His stories seem to flow naturally from him and he throws his entire body into his fabrications, at times boldly acting them out to both the audience and the other characters. He gives some of his best performances when backed into a corner, trying to extricate himself from a situation, and coming up with what seems like the perfect lie, putting a powerful flourish into his words. And even though he causes trouble for himself and others with his deceptions, he still manages to elicit sympathy. Towards the end, when he expresses his real feelings, he is softer and simpler, his language much less “poetic” and is sincere; the change is remarkable.
Jordan Campbell plays Dorante’s valet Cliton with youthful eagerness and comic energy. He is the first one on the stage, delivering a witty set of instructions to the audience. He and Frazier are a perfect physical comedy duo; whether acting out Dorante’s plans for seducing a woman or a tale of heroic action, he is tossed and buffeted about the stage, or turned into a tango partner, all the while fluttering a fan in front of his face. The hurt and disappointment is clear in his voice when he realizes Dorante is lying to him, and several times he tries to interrupt Dorante’s lies, to no avail. He also has some wonderful moments with Sabine (Allyson Boate), that serve as background comedy while Dorante spins his web.
Suzy Adler brings strength to the role of Clarice, one of Dorante’s love interests. She slaps away Dorante’s hand when he tries to hold hers, and confronts him with his deceptions. She has a power about her that allows her to stand up to Dorante’s seductive charms, devising schemes to reveal the truth. She is a joy to watch.
Anna Kurtz plays Lucrece, another of Dorante’s lovers, with sweetness and grace. She comes across as meek and quiet, and at times she can be overshadowed by the more forceful personalities of Clarice and Sabine, but there is a fierceness within her. When she discovers Dorante’s lies, Clarice must physically restrain her. At the end, she angrily calls him out. But her love for him is clear, and in the end, it wins out. It is easy to tell what attracts Dorante to her.
Allyson Boate gives sensuality and wit to the role of Sabine. Delivering messages between Dorante and Lucrece, she weeps when telling Dorante his lover did not read his letter, then gives him the straight truth. She has no qualms asking for more coins, her hand plainly outstretched. She is refreshingly clear and direct in what she wants, and she gets great laughs holding her own against the men.
Alex Turner plays Alcippe, Dorante’s rival and friend, with an edge of hysteria. He always seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown, whether accusing Clarice of being unfaithful or celebrating their impending marriage. He also has a great sense of comedy. While practicing for a duel, for instance, he gets his sword stuck in the staircase. He has considerable trouble opening a bottle of champagne. He provides a funny contrast with the charming, suave Dorante.
Edd Miller plays Geronte, Dorante’s father, with the appropriate gravitas and authority. He comes across at first easily fooled by his son’s lies, but he soon discovers the truth, and his fury comes roaring out. He wields his staff as a weapon, using it to corner Dorante and Cliton, and steps onto one of the benches. His prayer is one of the strongest performances in the play.
Stephanie Ichniowski plays Isabelle, Clarice’s maid, with a light gentleness. She does not speak much, but gives candid advice to Clarice. She is a soft presence, gliding throughout the play.
Neko Ramos plays Philliste with dignity. His speeches are peppered with expressive gestures that help illustrate his points. He is a quiet, but strong, figure.
Marianne Meadows does a great job as lighting designer, subtly increasing or lowering the light to reflect the changing mood.
Katie Boothroyd captures the period perfectly as costume designer, creating outfits that match each character’s rank on the social ladder. Dorante wears a red vest, red pants, black boots, and a black hat with a red feather jauntily poking out. Clarice is dressed in a long pink dress with white lace, while Isabelle wears a red shirt and a white skirt. Geronte looks regal with a purple cap and a long staff with one end bejeweled. Cliton wears a pink striped shirt, blue vest, and a tan cap.
The set is a simple but effective one, with properties by Joann and Mike Giddos. The backdrop is beige, sliding doors with two hanging tassels. Several colorful drapes are placed throughout the stage. Two marble-looking blocks are used for benches and other instruments. A wooden staircase leads to the loft, where a black frame serves as a window, with flowerpots on the edges.
Steve Tobin does a wonderful job as director. The actors move around the stage and each other quickly and easily. They deliver the rhyming couplets seemingly naturally and effortlessly, and they all have a great sense of comic timing. All the elements come together for an evening of laughter and wit. Truth be told, The Liar is not to be missed!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 10-minute intermission.