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April 15, 2010

A REVIEW The Play with Three Authors

Roy Meachum

In a play Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company opened last weekend, the writer is publicized as the French tragedian Pierre Corneille; “The Liar” is listed as his only comedy. But Monsieur Corneille publicly proclaimed he had lifted the idea from Spanish-American Jose Ruiz de Alarcon.


The words, however, that define the delightful performance in 7th Street’s Landsburgh Theatre were entirely concocted by American David Ives. He did a lot more than make an adaptation. In keeping to the iambic pentameter that I assume was in the French version, Mr. Ives created an altogether different work from Monsieur Corneille’s and Senor de Alarcon’s, however much they resembled each other.


Director Michael Kahn has staged a very rapidly paced show that tosses rhymes all over the place. As STC artistic director, Mr. Kahn made the wise decision to hire Mr. Ives; one of his instructions must have been “keep it short.” This was among the briefest evenings I’ve ever spent in a theatre: and in this case a Shakespeare quote truly applies: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”


Two hours are more frequently consumed to stage the first act. The script is not entirely to blame.


Mr. Kahn’s players are marvelously apt for their parts. As with all comedy, they mug and overact; they twist themselves into impossible shapes. Anything to get a laugh. The show verges on burlesque. Nobody slips on a banana or gets a pie thrown in the face, not as broad as that. But damn near.


Christian Conn exercises and snorts the leading part to a maximum delight. Always close at hand is Adam Green who plays his just-hired valet and sounding board for quirky ideas. Erin Partin whispers, giggles and fences all over the place as the romantic interest for “The Liar; I’ve never seen her before.


STC veteran Miriam Silverman dances through the role that all romantic comedies must have: the other woman who winds up with another man, after creating great confusion.


Tony Roach and Aubrey Deeker play the other guys, which is to say, not “The Liar.” They both mine the richness of their characters. And speaking of which, Colleen Delany gets to dish sweet and sour as two lookalike maids very different in their approaches to life. As one exits left, the other pops up right stage.


And, of course, there is David Sabin decked out in boots and a cape, tossing his flop-eared hat about. Mr. Sabin strikes me as the very heart of any production the STC trots out before an audience. Even in a lesser part, he endows the evenings with wit and intelligence and superbly developed talent.


Put simply, this is a very Michael Kahn company.


I hope you’ve been paying close attention: I do want you to go into Washington and get your hilarious kicks out of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “The Liar.” You’ve got time, it roars away until May 23. But don’t hesitate: tickets should go very fast.


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