The truth is a tricky thing. It can be objective or subjective, slippery or elusive. It can be deep and bitter and hard to hear. It is rarely absolute. More rarely, it can be very funny.
Now, lying — that's funny. Not so much when it's done to you but in the service of comedy, it can be pretty damn amusing. David Ives' The Liar, is an adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century play Le Menteur, a classic French farce in the tradition of Molière. North Coast Repertory Theatre's The Liar is a reminder that this idea hasn't lost any of its shine into the 21st century, most especially in the case of a lead character who both can't and won't tell the truth, and doesn't really see any reason he should.
Ives' play keeps Corneille's setting of Paris, although it becomes quickly clear that the setting is roughly some time (or times) between then and now. Wily dandy Dorante (Bo Banducci) arrives in town and meets commoner Cliton (Calder Johnson), whom he quickly takes on as a manservant. Dorante simply cannot tell the truth, yet weaves such exuberant, involved and seductive untruths that he's a force of nature. Cliton, not without some irony, is burdened with being almost incapable of telling a lie. Within moments of arriving in town, Dorante meets young lady Clarice (Tracy Dorgan) and regales her with tales of distant German wars in which, of course, he had no part. In the custom of farce, Dorante is smitten with her friend Lucrece (Megan Hughes) but has confused her name with Clarice's.
And from there, under the great direction of Troy Lescher, things are off and sprinting, all in iambic pentameter with a first act that's breezy and not too exposition-heavy. Naturally, saucy letters abound, arranged marriages go awry through deception, as do midnight meetings in the garden in which both the suitor and the object of his desire are fed lines by cohorts. Mistaken identities and varied subterfuge are never far off in this genre, and while The Liar has its groan-worthy bits of comic reaching, really, they're few and far between. Everything gyrates on an axis of the sometimes ludicrous, and the script shows off Ives' breathless manner with gleeful contemporary jokes, wit and wordplay, such as when Lucrece describes herself to Dorante as "your faithful oyster, the bivalve at the back whose eyes grow moister." Replies Dorante, "You may be a bivalve, but you're my valve."
Banducci (last seen quite recently in NCRT's Oklahoma and Richard III) is at full tilt in the enviable role of Dorante and Johnson plays well as the relative straight man — as one must really be when being unable to tell a lie amid such a frenzied premise. Dorgan and Hughes are both outstanding, playing Clarice and Lucrece at great complimentary pitches in their scenes together and when wooed by Dorante. Caroline McFarland shines in a double role of twin maids with wildly different personalities — after all, a story such as this needs twins to cause a running level of consternation and comic gags. Additionally, as Alcippe, Dorante's most put-upon childhood friend, Morgan Beck makes an impressive stage debut.
Of particular note are the amazing costumes by Rae Robison. Much as The Liar exists both within its era and yet very close to the present, the show's cast is clad fittingly, be they Dorante's hybrid of modern leather and colorful period elegance, or Clarice and Lucrece's outfits, eye-poppingly colorful and also suggestive of everything from Jazz-era fashions filtered through the 1980s with such touches as pink opera gloves and other surreal elements that work beautifully.
As things hurtle toward a manic and quite satisfactory denouement at the end, there's time during and afterward to think about the strength of lying in terms of the power of imagination. Dorante lies with almost joyous abandon and whenever caught, simply zips forth gleefully to another tall tale. One is left to contemplate, especially in this day and age, if truth has something less to do with how reality unfolds in truth than with the way reality is spun out of illusion.
The Liar plays at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Aug. 12, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on July 30 and Aug. 6. For more information, call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.
Get to Redwood Curtain Theatre for The Legend of Georgia McBride before the drag-tastic musical comedy sashays away. Through July 29. Call 443-7688 or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com.
Enjoy some theater in Redwood Park with Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, in which a trio of young men break their studies-before-ladies vows with comic results. Runs July 28 through Aug. 19. Plays in the Park is also presenting Pam Service's Merlin, Sundays from July 30 through Aug 20. Call 822-7091.