Monday, August 17, 2015


Onwumere and Smolin: lie coach
If you're one of those slightly benighted folks who think Santa Cruz Shakespeare would be so much fun, except for, you know, all that Shakespeare, then the current SCS production of The Liar is for you.

On the other hand, if you can't get enough of Shakespearean-style wit and wordplay, then The Liar is for you. In fact, if you're breathing, The Liar is for you.

Yes, it's a play you've never heard of, based on a French farce from (eek) 1643. Yes, the entire play is in verse. But this outrageously clever 2010 update by American playwright David Ives uses modern idioms and vernacular throughout (references to Twitter, etc.), to make sure that everyone gets all the jokes.

The farcical plot revolves around Dorante (Brian Smolin), a young man from the provinces on his first day in Paris who's quick to embroider the truth for the sake of expedience. He has no malicious intent; rather, say, he can't be bothered with the boring (or inconvenient) truth when a good lie, ingeniously crafted on the spot, is so much more satisfying.

Or, as Dorante puts it, in one of Ives' slyest lines, "the unimagined life is not worth living!"

Jolene and Cavett, with Smolin: effortlessly fun
 In short order, Dorante hires a manservant, Cliton (Toby Onwumere), unable to speak anything but the truth, falls instantly in love with one of two ladies (but mixes up their names), weasels out of a marriage plot arranged by his father, and fights a hilarious duel of words (which he narrates like an ESPN play-by-play), swords undrawn.

Did I mention the twin serving wenches (one lusty, one pious)? As soon as Dorante boasts to Cliton about his "Memory—keystone of the master liar!" you know he's heading for trouble.

A show that depends so completely on verbal dexterity needs an adroit cast, and SCS has put together an exceptional one. Toby Onwumere gets things off to a rollicking start before the show begins, as Cliton, wandering through the audience with a "Man for Hire" sign, offering to juggle fruit, sing songs or recite for pay. Onwumere is so powerful as the tragic but fierce Macduff in this season's production of Macbeth, it's great to see him shift gears in such a boisterously comic role.

Brian Smolin's Dorante is an utterly charming scapegrace, delighting himself (and us) with his extravagant fabrications, soaring to ever new heights on the addictive helium of his own tall tales. Smolin delivers his lines with clarity, precision, and impish glee, to match the flamboyant grace with which he prowls the stage; he's effortlessly fun in a demanding role.

Smolin and Parret: must be the lusty twin
The ladies, sassy Clarice (Mary Cavett) and quiet, but smoldering Lucrece (Sierra Jolene), keep the action hopping along, putting their suitors through their paces. Darek Riley scores as Alcippe, Clarice's other suitor (and Dorante's dueling/sparring partner in that great, er, wordfight scene). Allen Darby makes a droll impression as his friend, Philiste, and Kurt Meeker is the imposing voice of authority as Dorante's father.

Melina Parret is terrific fun as both twin servants, Isabelle and Sabine. SCS audiences may (or may not) recognize her from her other role this season as Lady Macbeth.

David Mickeklsen's vivid costumes vaguely recall the Musketeer era of the original French play (with a few cartoony/Commedia del'Arte flourishes), and Art Manke's smart direction is frisky, but never so frantic that we can't appreciate the jokes or the splendid performances.

This is probably the funniest play I've seen in the Glen since Danny Scheie's original production of A Comedy of Errors, back in the Stone Age. It's what live theatre is all about, and it only plays four more times through August 29, so get your tickets now.

Why are you still sitting there?

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