Season Select: The Liar

Posted April 6, 2023

APT Web Hero 1500x600 The Liar

For this week's Season Select, we're looking to The Liar and exploring the certain "je ne sais quoi" that goes in to making a comedy from 1644 still split sides in 2023.

The Liar

By David Ives
Adapted from Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille

Directed by Keira Fromm

Fast Facts

Playing: Hill Theatre | June 16 – September 29
Featuring: La Shawn Banks, Kelsey Brennan, Phoebe González, Casey Hoekstra, Josh Krause, Daniel José Molina, Samantha Newcomb
French Comedy
Last Seen at APT: First time!
Go If You Liked:
The Rivals (2022), Rough Crossing (2021), She Stoops to Conquer (2019)

About The Liar

The French have a knack for making us rethink our notions about love, and David Ives has a knack for outrageous comedy. Which makes this adaptation of The Liar a perfect storm of the sexy and the silly. Everything about this play is engineered to make us laugh. We have a man who cannot tell a lie, and another who can’t do anything but. We have two ladies whose liaisons run hot and cold, and two identical servants who are far from interchangeable. All of them are simply seeking someone to make them happy. Whether that’s forever or for the night is another question entirely. It’s joyful and bawdy and utterly brilliant, written completely in rhyming couplets and featuring actors who know how to make the most of every bon mot. Runs June 16 - September 29.

People come to APT for all sorts of reasons, and we welcome every audience member who arrives, whatever brought them to our proverbial door. And for those of you who are looking for something light-hearted and utterly hilarious, The Liar should be high on your to-do list. Which is not to say it doesn't have literary merit. It is a clever farce, written by the brilliant David Ives, and served up entirely in rhyming couplets. It's directed by Keira Fromm, who knows how to get inside comedies (A Phoenix Too Frequent, The Moors) and literary classics (A Doll's House, The Moors again) alike. And The Liar embodies both of those things.

But let's go back just a bit further, to the unlikely story of how this comedy came to be. The Liar is based on Pierre Corneille's Le Menteur, which made its stage debut in 1644 at the Old Vic. Corneille in turn adapted Le Menteur from a romantic comedy written by Juan Ruiz de Alarcón y Mendoza's La Verdad Sospechosa (which Corneille wrongly attributed to Lope de Vega in his dedication). When not misidentifying playwrights, Corneille (pronounced Corn-nay) is known as the father of French tragedy, though six of his first eight plays were comedies. Granted, they were comedies that had notes of the drama that would embody his later works, but comedies nonetheless.

So how did contemporary playwright, screenwriter and humorist David Ives (All in the Timing, Venus in Fur) come to adapt this story, the first of what are known as his "transladaptations?" On the heels of writing a new adaptation of Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear for Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Ives was approached by Washington Shakespeare Theatre Company with the script of Le Menteur, which Ives says he instantly fell in love with. But it was so dated that he knew it couldn't be staged as written, particularly the female characters. "I had to turn it into a play of my own, using Corneille the way Shakespeare, I blush to say it, used his own sources as a jumping off point for his comedies," Ives said in a 2018 Medium piece.

Brenda DeVita Says

This play exists to make people laugh. That is. That’s its job. It is frothy and farcy, and the costumes are glorious and extravagant. There are wigs for days. There is an utterly ridiculous twist on sword fighting. There are twins, and a guy who can’t stop lying, and a guy who can’t stop telling the truth. It is written entirely in rhyming couplets by David Ives, who took a French farce by Pierre Corneille from the 17th Century, and turned it into something that feels edgy and modern, but still very much a period piece. And we have this great director – you may remember her from last season’s incredible production of The Moors – Keira Fromm, who knows what this play is all about, and is ready to just lean right into the silliness. And the cast is ready to lean into right along with her – La Shawn Banks, Daniel José Molina and Casey Hoekstra are back for the first time since 2021, and Josh Krause. And Kelsey Brennan, Phoebe González and Samantha Newcomb playing very distinct yet hilarious women. Kelsey is actually playing two women. It all adds up to a very good time. And you know we all deserve that, right?

Want more? Check out this conversation with David Ives at the Kennedy Center, 2018. And another on Theater Talk where he discusses The Liar, as well as writing the book for what was to be Stephen Sondheim's last musical.