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Truth is, 'Liar' is outstanding at Colonial Players

Colonial Players' current production of the 17th-century French comedy "The Liar" offers an ideal pairing of play and venue in historic Annapolis.

Four-hundred-year-old jokes never sounded so good, and the reaction of capacity audiences in the recent opening weekend prove that humor is timeless.

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David Ives' fanciful farce adaptation of French playwright Pierre Corneille's "The Liar" — written in 1643 — retains the original's rhythm of dialogue. Yet while the characters and story were created 400 years ago, the language is contemporary in Ives' 2010 adaptation.

"The Liar" is filled with mistaken identities, dreadful puns and the absurdities of courtship, where inexperienced lads clumsily pursue playful lasses. It's an ideal vehicle for Colonial Players' spirited young cast.

The production succeeds on all levels, largely thanks to the direction of Steve Tobin, who returns to Colonial Players after a 25-year absence. Tobin says he was drawn out of retirement by the lure of a comedy representing two of his passions: "classical theater and Catskills humor."

In his director's notes, Tobin urges the audience not to be put off by verse plays, suggesting that Corneille and Ives have created a "classical play as entertaining as a Mel Brooks comedy," and one that appeals to "lovers of language and laughs."

Tobin has assembled an ideal cast of players who respect the importance of words, and enunciate their lines with clarity. They also master a seeming spontaneity, adding an improv element to what could be construed as predictable puns.

The plot centers on wealthy young Dorante, who spins tales of his military feats and amorous conquests. The stories become more outrageous with each telling to his newly hired servant, Cliton.

Himself unable to tell a lie, Cliton grows increasingly baffled by Dorante — who eventually gives him lessons in fibbing. When lovely cousins Clarice and Lucrece appear, Dorante is instantly captivated by Clarice. Trouble is, she's engaged to jealous Alcippe, and Dorante soon has a wordless, woundless duel on his hands.

Confusion builds as Dorante's doting father, Geronte, sets about arranging a marriage for his son, and Cliton falls in love with twin maids Isabelle and Sabine, unaware his love is actually a twin pair. Everyone grows even more confused as notes are passed to the wrong recipients — either by chance or design.

Both cast and behind-the-scenes staff deliver excellence. Lighting designer Alex Brady uses Colonial Players' state-of-the-art lighting system to create spectacular indoor and outdoor effects. Set and floor designer Krisztina Vanyi creates ideal settings for every scene, complete with a cobblestone-patterned floor.

A carpenter crew headed by Dick Whaley has designed easily converted mobile furnishings that become indoor and outdoor benches, or multifunctional garden dividing walls. Costume designer Linda Swann created elaborate dresses for the lovely cousins and a fetching costume for the maid, while assembling lavishly embroidered costumes for male cast members.

Heading the cast of players is Fred Fletcher-Jackson, who as Dorante offers tall tales with relish, and easily exchanges pleasantries with audience members seated in the first row.

Fletcher-Jackson's exchanges with Jeff Sprague's Cliton are nearly as polished as those of Carol Burnett's fabled comic team of Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. Sprague is an equally skilled comedian who draws us into the action, delivering every line with gusto and freshness.

Natasha Joyce as the lively Clarice and Rebecca Ellis as cooler cousin Lucrece signal their delight in sparring with suitor Dorante. In the contrasting dual roles of saucy Isabelle and properly sedate Sabine — maids to Clarice and Lucrece — Sarah Wade delivers a nuanced comedic performance.

Clarice's jealous lover Alcippe is played by Seth Clute, while the character of Phileste is portrayed by Ethan Goldberg and Geronte by Marc Rehr. Nicole Musho and Mike Winnick give life to stagehands Michelle and Michel, bringing spontaneous fun to the art of scene changing.

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This delightful show has found a home in Annapolis. Here at Colonial Players, "The Liar" becomes a comedy triumph that seems destined to add to the troupe's growing list of area awards.

In view of sold-out performances through the first weekend, advance ticket orders are recommended for remaining weekend performances through Feb. 7. Call the box office at 410-268-7373, or go to thecolonialplayers.org.

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