The Liar at Park Square Theatre

Shá Cage, Sara Richardson, India Gurley and Zach Curtis in The Liar. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

Shá Cage, Sara Richardson, India Gurley and Zach Curtis in The Liar. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

Productions of classic comedies can many times feel outmoded. Characters have romantic and societal motivations foreign to modern times and, well, people also tend to talk oddly, especially when dialogue is delivered in verse. None of this is overlooked by Park Square Theatre’s very funny, spirited rendition of David Ives’ adaptation of Pierre Corneille‘s 17th century social satire The Liar (running now through October 2 on their proscenium).

Rather than revamping and reframing their source material, this production takes the lead of Ives’ modernized pentameter and exaggerates its quirks. The Liar utilizes all the tools of classical farce, from mistaken identities to conspicuous coupling, ad absurdum. Where audiences are generally expected to chalk up such excesses of more primitive times, this show invites us to look squarely at their inanity and laugh.

And from the severely stilted (though versatile) sets to the on-stage harpsichord player, it nearly all works under Doug Scholz-Carlson’s ceaselessly playful direction. That set (by Eli Schlatter), by the way, is artificially cartoonish and provides grounds for some of the show’s most amusing running gags.

It doesn’t hurt that the show boasts a formidable listing of some of the best comedic performers in town, who are excellent across the board. Firstly, the show wouldn’t work without a strong turn from the actor playing Dorante, the titular liar, and Shá Cage delivers. Her turn, taking on a male part here with a pitch-perfect manic performance, believably captures our imaginations and affections with her incorrigible fibs.

There are plenty of other standouts. Zach Curtis, as Dorante’s honest-to-a-fault valet, matches Cage turn-for-turn with expressive, over-the-top physicality. Lucrece, the proper young lady caught in the crosshairs of the romantic hijinks, finds comedic nuance and quirky tics in Sara Richardson, an actress whom has repeatedly shown an ability to do magnetic character work. And then there is the indomitable Shanan Custer, who is fabulously droll in her duel role of the two ladies’ maids, twin sisters with opposing personalities.

But there is not a weak link throughout, and Scholz-Carlson’s direction wisely gives each performer space to improvise and roam, trusting in their understanding of comedic timing to maintain the show’s energy. It is something special to see great comedic performers enjoying their work; fluidly feeding off each other’s cues and milking bits while emanating that they are having a lot of fun in the process. While dramatic performances can certainly be rewarding for performers, there is never a feeling those on stage will have to fight back a sincere grin. And that feeling can make for a fun, communal ride.

Delivering bad puns, poor rhymes, pratfalls, and contrivance with knowing wit, Park Square’s The Liar is a great fit for a night out with friends looking to laugh. While an unapologetically silly send-up of theatrical artifice may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this production will surely win over its fair share of doubters.

Chelsea and David Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

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