The Liar is flouncing in on the coattails of Portland's 17th-century comedy binge. Theater Vertigo's The School for Lies, Portland State University's The Misanthrope and Portland Center Stage's Cyrano opened the door, and now Artists Repertory Theatre artistic director Dámaso Rodriguez brings the real feast.
The year is 1643. Having just arrived in Paris, our liar Dorante (Chris Murray) hires a new servant and right-hand man, Cliton (Artist Rep resident John San Nicolas). Dorante immediately falls for brash Clarice (Amy Newman) in an intimate moment that's magnified by the minimalism of Artists Rep's simple staging, and then he attempts to seduce her over an elaborate, 15-course meal. But Dorante spins himself into a tangled web when he mistakes Clarice's shy confidant Lucrece (Chantal DeGroat) for the object of his affection and pursues her instead. Meanwhile, his best buddy Cliton is chasing the ladies' maids, Sabine and Isabelle (both played convincingly by Val Landrum). The eponymous liar is on point when he says, "Our lives can out-fick the finest fictions." When Dorante's father (Allen Nause) and Clarice's fiance (Gilberto Martin del Campo) join the action, eight becomes a crowd, and Dorante's cast of lies only further complicates everything.
The production is indebted to David Ives' adaptation of Corneille's original script. Ives offers cleverly executed social banter, entirely in verse but with a decidedly 21st-century tone. And the play's exaggerated costuming, all accentuated bustles and coquettish wigs, matches its cheerful theme and rhyming banter. But it's San Nicolas' and Murray's warp-speed elocution and fraternal chemistry that carry the play. When Dorante explains to Cliton that lying is like adding spice to a bland fish dish, their saucy banter is a perfect example of that liar's wit.
There's plenty of intrigue, but this is no Dostoyevsky: We can hear the wedding bells chime when the house lights dim. But with the stage so neatly set, Artists Rep's The Liar lets us sit back and relish the witty wordplay with a smooth finish of fine acting.
SEE IT: The Liar is at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278. 7:30 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays, through June 21. Additional matinee 2 pm Saturday, June 20. $25-$49.