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Theater review: 'The Liar' at CSS is an absolute triumph

David Ives adaptation of Pierre Corneille's "The Liar" keeps the skeleton of the original 1643 play intact while fleshing it out with jokes an audience in this century will laugh at. Ives treats words as playthings and while maintaining the classical metric sensibilities of the text comes up with sentences that pivot, somersault, reverse and often find their comic logic in non sequiturs whose sole virtue is to complete the rhyme. Those rhymes run the gamut from cleverly cute to absolutely awful.

In short, it is a script fraught with peril because of the exacting demands of the dialogue. However, Cade Kowalczak's clever curtain speech quickly established how this cast was going to play the game, and when he was joined on stage by Luke Moravec it became clear there was a set of actors equal to the task. By the time Alicia Roles starting getting big laugh after big laugh I knew that was match. This wickedly funny and deftly executed production that premiered Friday night at the College of St. Scholastica Theatre is an absolute triumph.

When the titular character (Moravec) first arrives in Paris, he immediately hires the pathologically honest Cliton (Kowalczak) as his valet. Telling tales of military heroics, Dorante attempts to woo the spirited Clarice (Roles) despite the objections of her friend, the more reserved Lucrece (Katherine Grotte). The two young women happen to have maids who are (wait for it) identical twin sisters (both played by Madison Haeg). The introduction of each character adds another piece to the puzzle, making us perfectly aware how the stage is being set for comic confusions and complications galore.

Dorante has a hard time keeping the details of his ever-expanding story straight, but more importantly in this farce he also cannot get straight which woman is which. Consequently, when his father, Geronte (Corey Bardon), wants to arrange Dorante's marriage to the woman he loves, he insists he is already married. To a gypsy. Who apparently is pregnant.

The sheer range and scope of Moravec's performance makes this the most outstanding role he has played to date. Kowalczak is his equal, displaying an impressive array of alternating slow double-takes and even slower burns. Roles is an absolute delight, getting her laughs despite not having the advantage of the broad physical comedy being employed by the others. As Alcippe, Grant Hartmann engages in dazzling high-speed delivery to great effect. I thought Lucrece was only a secondary character until Grotte gave a heartfelt little speech that literally hushed the crowd, drove Dorante to prose, and set up the rather surprising denouement. Amanda Ayd is Pansy, a dancing gamin who identifies the star-tossed (upon) lovers, and Jake Spartz is the alliterative Philiste.

Director Tammy Ostrander not only gets her cast to use a wide variety of declamatory techniques to avoid the sing-song pattern actors find so seductive, but makes the most out of their blocking as well, from a nice bit with a revolving garden gate set piece to down to the constant pitter patter of Clarice and Lucrece's little feet.

"The Liar" is so good that when my wife reads this review and sees what she missed, she is going to make me go see it again, and I will most willingly go.

Lawrance Bernabo could get used to teaching one day out of 11 the rest of the semester ...

If you go

What: "The Liar," by Pierre Corneille, translated by David Ives

Where: St. Scholastica Theatre, behind Tower Hall

When: 7:30 tonight and Feb. 6-8; 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 9

Tickets: $15 adults, $10 seniors and students, $5 CSS students at spotlight.css.edu or call (218) 723-7000.

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