The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Adam Roberts, March 7, 2014, Arts

The Liar

Austin Playhouse at Highland Mall, 6001 Airport, 512/476-0084
Through March 9
Running Time: 2 hr., 15 min.

Maybe George Washington couldn't tell a lie, but if the production of David Ives' The Liar currently strutting its stuff at Highland Mall is any indication, Austin Playhouse sure can.

Okay, that didn't sound quite right. Backing up a bit: Ives didn't actually write The Liar – at least originally; in fact, it was written more than 350 years ago, long before our first president and that, ahem, cherry tree incident. But Ives, who is perhaps best known for his witty wordplay in works such as All in the Timing and Venus in Fur, was in many ways the ideal contemporary playwright to adapt Pierre Corneille's script about a compulsive – and proud – spinner of deceit. In terms of style, think Shakespearean comedy: Mistaken identities form the central plot, farcical flouncing abounds, and visual antics keep the action moving along at a quick pace.

But if you're not into all those "thees" and "thous," feare (ye) not: Ives' adaptation is fresh and up to date, smartly intermingling today's parlance with some of those Elizabethanisms that will ring familiare to the eare. The text even goes so far as to include some naughty (modern) language, meaning that what might otherwise be a family-friendly show with an enjoyment factor for even younger audience members is probably best suited to a teenage-and-older constituency.

As the title character, Benjamin Summers is hardly recognizable from the kinds of roles I've seen him play. He makes a total transformation into the over-the-top, brightly-clad deceiver Dorante, accompanied by loyal servant Cliton (the hilarious J. Ben Wolfe). As Clarice and Lucrece (mistaken in identity), Hildreth England and Lara Toner, respectively, are as affably cartoony as Summers, Wolfe, and their fellow castmates. Of special note is Claire Grasso, who plays night-and-day twins (Shakespeare, anyone?) Isabelle and Sabine with especially comedic flair.

The physical world of Ives' play is set in bright colors by the Playhouse, with design power team Patrick and Holly Crowley providing a highly illustrated set that's matched in Buffy Manners' excellent costumes. Lighting designer Don Day illuminates these colorful goings-on with ample amperage. Director Don Toner has done a fine job with this production, uniting its elements thematically in such a way that gives heightened dimension to an already heightened farce.

I highly recommend that you gather a cadre of groundlings and head to Austin Playhouse for a rousing good time. You won't be disappointed – and I ain't lyin'.

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