David Joseph and Emily Rose Ehlinger
David Joseph and Emily Rose Ehlinger (Shakespeare & Company)

LENOX -- Fresh out of law school, Dorante, the brash young hero at the center of David ives' comedy, "The Liar," is raring to go.

His father, Geronte, has brought his son to Paris to complete arrangements for Dorante's marriage to an appealing young woman named Clarice whom Dorante has never met and who, it happens, is secretly engaged to Dorante's best friend, Alcippe.

As played, engagingly so by David Joseph in the uneven production of "The Liar" at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Dorante is never more alive than when he is wrapped in the lives he has never lived.

"All the world's a lie," he audaciously pronounces at one point. For Dorante, the unimagined life isn't worth living and so he unleashes his imagination, inventing and reinventing himself at every opportunity, often with the help of William Shakespeare. As one might expect, it leads Dorante into a tangle of misadventures, faulty assumptions and mistaken identity, all in the pursuit of something like love.

Accompanying this man who cannot tell the truth is a trusty manservant, Cliton (Douglas Seldin), who cannot tell a lie. One of the play's, and this production's, more inspired moments is a shrewdly revealing scene in which Joseph's Dorante tutors Seldin's ever-truthful Cliton in the ways of deceit and mendacity.

While director Kevin Coleman's production moves at a steadily brisk, driving pace, the internal rhythm is less consistent. With the exception of an marvelously antic finger sword duel between Joseph's gracefully high-spirited Dorante and Enrico Spada's desperate Alcippe near the end of the first act, the production doesn't find itself until the last half of the second act, as all the entanglements unravel and gather up in a ball of resolution.

Joseph gives this production the solid, driving presence it needs at its center. He is more than ably abetted by Seldin's alternately wry and befuddled Cliton; Emily Rose Ehlinger's beautifully shaded, lovestruck Lucrece; and Dana Harrison's sublime portrayals of twin personal maids -- the lusty and libidinous Isabelle and the dour, severe Sabine, whose pursed lips and pinched cheeks give her the look of someone holding the bitterest of lemons in her mouth.

Alexandra Lincoln wraps Clarice in rosy ingenue tones. As Geronte, Jake Berger plays at the edges of caricature. Marcus Kearns' Philiste, a kind of rational neutral observer of the twists and turns of Dorante and Alcippe's attempts to outmaneuver one another, is, at best, vaguely defined.

♦ Theater Review

THE LIAR by David Ives. Adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille. Directed by Kevin Coleman; set designer, Patrick Brennan; costume designer, Govane Lohbauer; lighting designer and electrics, James W. Bilnoski; sound designer, Michael Pfeiffer. Through March 24. Eves.: Fri., Sat. 7 p.m. Mats.: Sun. 2 (Saturday matinees Feb. 23 and March 9, 23 at 2). Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox. Tickets: $50-$15. (413) 637-3353; www.Shakespeare.org. 2 hours 17 minutes 

Cliton Douglas Seldin

Dorante David Joseph

Lucrece Emily Rose Ehlinger

Clarice Alexandra Lincoln

Isabelle/Sabine Dana Harrison

Alcippe Enrico Spada

Philiste Marcus Kearns

Geronte Jake Berger