Can a 1643 French comedy written in rhymed couplets still be funny today? American playwright David Ives decided to find out in 2010 by adapting Pierre Corneille’s “The Liar.” Since then, the acclaimed productions of that version answer back, “yes.” The success of Deep Dish Theater Company’s boisterous staging will depend on one’s response to its way with the outrageous rhyming puns and its farce-like physical comedy.
Ives keeps Corneille’s time period, but adds new scenes and modern sensibilities. Ladies man Dorante gets through life by lying at every turn. He arrives in Paris to stop his father Geronte, from arranging an unwanted marriage. After hiring young Cliton as his valet, Dorante chances to meet Lucrece and Clarice, falling for the latter but mistaking her as Lucrece. Dorante pursues assignations with the wrong conquest-to-be, enlisting the aid of twin ladies’ maids, Isabelle and Sabine, while warding off Clarice’s intended husband, Alcippe and his friend Philiste.
Ives gets credit for managing two hours of rhyming pentameter, much of it clever and literate. But just as much is silly, forced, jarringly slangy and surprising crude. The machine-gun barrage of rhymes can be exhilarating but also wearing.
Director Paul Frellick instills his cast with impressive pacing, the actors’ confident delivery punching up the repeating puns. They gamely perform Frellick’s larger-than-life characterizations, heightened with LeGrande Smith’s humorous costuming and Miyuki Su’s amusing setting of topiaries, busts and garden gates.
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Roman Pearah makes Dorante a likable bad guy, his range of body language signaling every near-calamity as he wiggles out of each lie. Rebecca Bossen gives Clarice sly wit and Maryanne Henderson’s Lucrece is a spunky romantic. Marilyn Gorman neatly divides herself between the sweet maid Isabelle and her intimidating twin, Sabine.
Scott Nagel’s ever-seething Alcippe and Matthew Hager’s fuming, sarcastic Cliton get laughs through dialed up intensity. Daniel Doyle and Warren Keyes are efficient in the rather thankless roles of Philiste and Geronte, respectively.
A more refined approach with fewer elbow jabs might have proved even funnier juxtaposed with the no-holds-barred text, but Deep Dish’s production offers an evening’s entertainment to those willing to embrace its particular style.
Want to go?
What: “The Liar” by David Ives.
Where: Deep Dish Theater Company, University Mall, 201 South Estes Drive, Chapel Hill.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, May 15-16 and May 22-23; 7:30 p.m. May 13-14 and May 20-21; and 2 p.m. on Sunday and May17.
Information: 919-968-1515 or deepdishtheater.org.