'The Liar': Dining on a script of lies
LENOX -- If the truth will set you free, Dorante would sooner be chained and bound by his words so he could convince you the opposite.
The charming young main character of "The Liar" by David Ives, adapted from the comedy of the same name by 17th-century French playwright Pierre Corneille, can't seem to utter a word that isn't true.
While it may be difficult to catch all the jokes, japes and jests, just let the rhyming couplets be your cue.
The style of verse and language in Shakespeare & Company's "The Liar," which begins previews tonight at 7 in the Elayne, P. Bernstein Theatre (where it officially opens on Feb. 8), Ives said, "adds a level of fun.
"It's like champagne. It has a real bubbly flavor to it, but people will need to tune their ears to it."
Ives said he hadn't heard of Corneille until his agent brought him a copy of the French play and he instantly fell in love with the deception, misdirection and tangled web of lies.
"It was like someone handed me ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream' in French," Ives said during a recent visit to Shakespeare & Company. "I read French quite well, but I had to figure out how to make the plot more accessible for today's audiences. If a play isn't alive, there's no reason to put in on."
Shakespeare & Company director and founding member, Kevin Coleman, said he felt the same. He knew he was going to direct the last show of the winter season and was given about 10 scripts to read through.
Picking up Ives' adaptation, the choice was clear.
"I didn't even need to read the rest," he said. "I was laughing so hard. I said ‘Is this really from a French farce?' They're not usually that funny. Usually the writer is spoon-feeding us until we get a mouthful."
"The Liar," Coleman said, is more like a 20-course dinner, with each dish served as exactly the right moment for the audience to enjoy.
Originally set in the 17th century, Ives set his version in the 18th century because "costumes are everything and they're much sexier then."
In the 1980s, Ives was working as a playwright-in- residence during the Williamstown Theatre Festival and quickly fell for the area's beauty.
Having returned to the Berkshires on several occasions, Ives, whose most recent New York success was "Venus in Fur," was excited to hear that Shakespeare & Company had chosen to produce "The Liar."
Ives agreed to return earlier this month to sit with the cast and crew and discuss his work during two days of readings. In preparation of his arrival, the set was built, costumes sewn and most of the actors knew their lines, in less than three days.
"This is just a manual until an actor actually starts saying the lines," Ives said.
Coleman agreed saying, "it's just rehearsal until you have the audience. It's not theater, it's merely practice."
David Joseph, who plays Dorante, said having his character's creator around to answer questions gave him an opportunity to delve into the liar's psyche like never before.
"Before he got here it was very nerve-wracking, but then you meet him and he couldn't be nicer," Joseph said. "This play is full so full of clever language, so many gifts for the audience, that are also gifts for us as actors."
One of Joseph's cast mates, Dana Harrison, who plays twin servants Isabelle and Sabine, and joined Shakespeare & Company in 2006 along with Joseph, said she, too, was a little taken aback by Ives.
"He's so talented, so approachable, so he doesn't have to be so nice but is," she said. "To sit around the table with us was a true delight. To be able to ask questions about French pronunciations and which character was interested in who just makes this production so much better."
As the cast gathered round several tables clumped together, Ives really had only small suggestions and one piece of advice he repeated often - "just do whatever is funniest.
"The audience is really another character, especially in this play," he said. "They're an essential piece of this show."
Coleman said he couldn't be more pleased with the production, or how lucky they were to have Ives in the theater.
"It's a three-ring circus Š played and danced like jazz music," Coleman said. "People will have to come back again to see all the layers of this play. It's like Christmas in February."
What: "The Liar." Adapted by David Ives from the comedy by Pierre Corneille
Who: Shakespeare & Company
When: Tonight through March 24 (press opening, Saturday 7 p.m.) Eves.: Fri., Sat. 7. Mats.: Sat., Sun. 2.
Where: Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox
How: (413) 637-3353; www.Shakespeare.org
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