Make an Old French Liar Sound Brand New
David Ives brings a classic play to the present
A man who fabricates stories, who can't keep himself from lying, who is unrepentant when his on-the-fly fictions are exposed, who lives in an alternate reality?
Ripped from the headlines?
No, it's the 17th-century French comedy Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille. And now, under the deft hand of playwright-adapter David Ives, it's been reconceived as The Liar, playing at Classic Stage Company through February 26.
Hearing about this show, it's hard not to think about our current president. As Ives notes, "[director] Michael Kahn says that this play is suddenly relevant in a way that we never foresaw."
For the playwright, however, comparisons only go so far. "There is so much hatred built into the ego of Donald Trump, and there is no hatred in this character," he says. "He's too much in love with life to do something as mean as stopping immigrants at the border."
He adds that Dorante, the title character, is a charmer without guile. "He is not built around narcissism, but beauty. He's trying to make the world more interesting."
When Kahn first approached Ives to write the adaptation for a 2009 production at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., neither the playwright nor anyone he knew had ever heard of the play. But when he sat down to read it, he immediately responded to its joie de vivre.
"It's very sparkly in French, and it just trips along," he says. "And it has these extraordinary baroque [spoken] arias which I love. But what I also love is the play's freedom from morality because [Dorante] never gets his comeuppance. Everyone else, of course, has to live with the consequences, and yet it all ends up well for everybody."