Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Liar—Artists Rep—SW Portland

The Idle Rich

This period comedy by Pierre Corneille is freely adapted by David Ives and directed by Artists Rep’s Artistic Director, Dámaso Rodriguez.  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through June 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

Have no Fear,
There is no Crime.
The play is Done
In perfect Rhyme.
This is what makes the play somewhat unique, that the speeches are done (mostly) in iambic pentameter or rhymed verse.  There was also a rather good film version of The Pied Piper… done a number of years ago (w/Van Johnson & Claude Rains) that was all written in rhyme.  Corneille’s material has been updated in speech, also, so that it becomes more accessible to a modern audience.  That being said, the costumes (colorful & exaggerated) and settings (a gorgeous, detailed map in the background) are Paris during the mid-1600’s.

Corneille has ideas in common with Shakespeare and Moliere’s (both contemporaries) comedies, as they, too, ridiculed the upper class, politicians, the idle rich and lawyers (“let’s kill all the lawyers”—Shakespeare).  (Any comparison to modern-day counterparts is purely…intentional.)  They also all included masks and disguises to discover the intentions of others.  And they applauded the “wise fools,” the servants or clowns that seem to have all the answers.  And characters’ used asides to the audience to explain inner thoughts and motivations.  Also, of course, Love (or, at least, Lust) was always in the air and usually the focal point of the story.

In this incarnation of Cupid’s domain, a young suitor, Dorante (Chris Murray), arrives in town looking to make his mark in the world.  The first person he comes across is a common man, Cliton (John San Nicolas) who he takes under his wing to be his guide and valet, to acquaint him with the landscape of the town and its people.  Only problem is, is that Cliton cannot tell a lie.   Another concern, Dorante tells nothing but lies (like a certain counterpoint in children’s stories with a long nose), and real whoppers, too.  In fact, he has a problem keeping characters and incidents straight if he has to repeat the tale.

Never mind that as he comes upon the object of his dreams in the body of Clarice (Amy Newman) and is immediately smitten (she, less so).  She also has an entourage in the form of her cousin, Lucrece (Chantal DeGroat), a rather taciturn type, but both are women of means, in other words, fair game.  And they have a servant, the saucy, Isabelle (Val Landrum) who Cliton is immediately taken with (complications arise when he discovers she has a twin sister, Sabine).

All should be good in this little menagerie, except for the fact that Clarice is already spoken for.  It seems Dorante’s childhood friend, Alcippe (Gilberto Martin del Campo), also has eyes on this little prize and suspects her of having a tryst with a mysterious stranger.  Alcippe’s best friend, Philiste (Vin Shambry), too, has eyes on this house of beauties, as he is taken with the authoritarian maid of theirs, Sabine (Lundrum, again).  And, to add more seasoning to this already spicy stew, Geronte (Allen Nause), Dorante’s father, is more than willing to plead his son’s case to his beloved, if he can only wade through the tall tales that his son tells and discover the truth.  I will leave you to view how it is all sorted out.

This is, by far, one of the funniest plays I have ever seen!  It sparkles with wit, wisdom and whimsy at every wayward route!  It is a virtual feast for the eyes and ears and the funny bone, too.  Rodriguez is the Master here and we, like excited schoolchildren, absorb every word and clamor for more.  This is one for the ages!

The physical comedy is amazing and the rhyme only heightens the antics onstage.  The “air” duel between Dorante and Alcippe is a classic on a Chaplinese scale.  The pace is unrelenting (except in one, un-rhymed piece, where focus is given to truth over fiction) and the laughs are non-stop.  Rodriguez has a lot to be proud of as the Captain of this vessel of comic discovery.  And the costumes (Bobby Brewer Wallin) are super, as they are an art form in motion.  Also, the set (Susan Gratch), especially the map, gives us immediately and simply the tenor of the piece we are to witness, meandering paths in a giant labyrinth of a wilderness called civilization.

Murray carries much of the weight of the story and he does it beautifully, giving us a character you want to despise but can’t help liking.  Wonderful performance.  San Nicolas, as the “wise fool,” the teller of the tale, has never been better.  You at once identify with him as a man caught up in circumstances not of his choosing but gamely muddling his way through.  Terrific.  And Landrum, in her dual roles, with only slight changes to her costumes, lets us see what true acting is all about.  It starts within, and needs little accouterments from without, to be convincing.  A prime example.

Newman and DeGroat and just fine as the ladies in question, funny and beautiful in the same breath.  Del Campo and Shambry are both very animated and almost dance-like in their presentations.  And Nause is always a treat to watch, as he beautifully underplays the bumbling father (with a secret).  He is a pro whether acting or directing and it shows.


“All’s well that Ends well”

(Or so is said);

And, with that Rejoinder,

Now home to Bed.


I highly recommend this play (if you already hadn’t guessed that).  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.