The Liar, Shakespeare Theatre

Oh, CORNEILLE. How I suffered through Le Cid. How I filled pages of notebooks on neoclassicism and your unwillingness to abide by its strictures. How I wish I could say I'd seen your play on Sunday night.

The production of The Liar that has just opened at the Shakespeare Theatre and directed by Michael Kahn is NOT Corneille's original comedy. Not entirely. Instead, it's been 'translapted' by David Ives, known to most of us for his brilliant one act plays- staples across the land, and with good reason. Ives has a fantastic ear for puns and wordplay and wit and an imagination that rivals any other I've come across.

Here's the thing. Translators have a VERY difficult an unenviable job. I trust Ives that there were major problems in Corneille's play that needed fixing and really, I have no problem with the structure of the play or its plot. The tricky issue is how to treat the language itself- a play that's centuries old and in a different language MUST be adapted, not just translated. But what kind of language do you put it in? Ives has chosen to write the play in rhyming couplets and with modern idioms and expressions throughout.

That's the rub.

For my taste, the best translations use anachronisms sparingly- STC's The Dog in the Manger last season was a BRILLIANT example of how to do this well. It stuck to language that suited the period, setting, and tone of the play, so that when it used anachronistic language, it came as a wonderful, delightful surprise. For my taste (your mileage may vary), The Liar is too relentlessly modern. It works too hard, strains too far, and gets caught up in its own cleverness just a bit too often. The couplet approach also proves difficult to deliver- the actors go back and forth between emphasizing the end rhymes so that every line sounds like a punch line, and disguising the rhymes entirely. I found it to be too distracting in the end to get past, and it put a damper on a lot of the fun for me.

I WILL say, however, that there were a lot of nods to the STC audience in the translation- ones that produced genuine hoots from me on every occurrence. Am I a sucker for a Shakespeare reference? Absolutely. Does this bother me? Absolutely not. I loved those unabashedly and tip my nonexistent hat to Ives for those gestures.

Enough about my issues with the translation/adaptation. How were the performances?

The audience loved it.

I... was, again, not entirely sold. I'M SORRY. I don't actually like to go against a happy crowd of playgoers, and that's what the Lansburgh was filled with on Sunday night- people who laughed themselves giddy for two hours. Am I a stick in the mud? Potentially. But for me, the performances tended to feel somewhat labored, so rehearsed that spontaneity was almost entirely absent. Christian Conn is a charming guy, and Adam Green was a classic straight man, but they seemed to be working so hard that I admired their stamina more than their comedy. The ladies- Erin Partin and Miriam Silverman (who I've loved in everything I've ever seen her in)- are fine, but again, lacking a bit of extra sparkle. I wish I understood why; there are HEAPS of talent on that stage, but it just never rang quite true for me.

It didn't help that I didn't love Alexander Dodge's set. The flat walls panels were serviceable and adapted well to create the different spaces, but I didn't like the red chandelier in Dog in the Manger and I STILL didn't like them when they showed up in two different shades this time around. Was there a sale?

For me, this production was a miss. That being said, a good friend of mine whose opinion I generally value (except as regards Tim Rice and Shakespeare's history plays) saw the show and loved it. The audience on Sunday night loved it. Please- prove me wrong, Liar! Be wonderful. Let it be me who wasn't right, not you. On the strength of EVERY OTHER OPINION of the show I've encountered, I'd say go check it out. Just because it didn't float my boat doesn't mean yours won't make it halfway across the Atlantic.


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