David Ives, never one to pass up a well-layered portmanteau, calls his version of Pierre Corneille’s 1643 play a “translaptation”— a translation by way of adaptation, and if the “slap” happens to evoke a certain wordsmithly slapstick, more’s the better.
Like his Molière riff The School for Lies (inspired by The Misanthrope), seen earlier this season at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Ives’s The Liar, making its Chicago-area debut at Writers’ Theatre, uses its source material as a mere jumping-off point for modern-minded verse comedy. (A more straightforward translation of The Misanthrope is currently on the boards at Court Theatre, just for good measure.)
In Ives’s version, Dorante (Nate Burger) styles himself a lazy lothario who cannot tell a truth. The latter appears to be the case, but laziness falls away as Dorante mixes up the identities of a pair of comely young maidens (Laura Rook and Kalen Harriman) and, in his efforts to woo the wrong one while escaping the efforts of his doting father (Jonathan Weir) to pair him up with the lady he’s actually after, jumps through an increasingly elaborate set of hoops to keep his lies from falling apart.
William Brown’s remarkably well executed production makes the most of Ives’s wordplay without leaning too heavily into it; the uniformly terrific cast keeps things appearing so light and spontaneous that only rarely can you sense a pun coming, and never will you anticipate such rhymes as experience and Presbyterians. (Sorry to spoil that one.)
While the whole cast shines, the undeniable star turn here is Burger’s as the dashing comic antihero. The young actor already had one breakout role this season under Brown's direction, captivating our attention for 100 minutes alone onstage in TimeLine Theatre Company’s P.O.W. drama Wasteland. Now he proves equally capable of leading—indeed, running away with—an ensemble comedy.
Follow along as Burger’s confident Dorante recreates an imagined tryst to fool his dad and his overly honest valet, Cliton (LaShawn Banks), or watch him goad his hotheaded rival Alcippe (Michael Perez) into a meticulously detailed duel with no chance of consequences, and try to resist his powers of persuasion. Would he lie to you, baby?