“The unimagined life is not worth living.” Such is the premise of the Artists Repertory Theatre’s production of David Ives’ “translaptation” of Pierre Corneille’s “The Liar.”
Set in colorful Cavalier period Paris, and in verse, this highly imaginative work tells the story of Dorante, a compulsive (yet not all that competent) liar who has come to the city for the purpose of finding a wife. Upon his arrival, he meets a man named Clinton who, in desperate need of employment is auctioning himself off to the highest bidder. After Clinton reveals that he cannot tell a lie, Dorante takes him on as a servant and guide to the city.
Through a chance encounter, Dorante and Clinton meet two women of society, Clarice and Lucrece, and Lucrece’s maid Isabelle. Upon setting eyes on Clarice, Dorante is immediately smitten and convinced that he can win her hand; there’s just one catch, well two actually—she’s betrothed to his friend Alcippe and Dorante thinks that her name is in fact Lucrece. Clinton meanwhile has fallen for Isabelle, who unbeknownst to him has a twin sister named Sabine.
Cleverly orchestrated chaos in the form of secret meetings, an imaginary duel, love notes received by unintended recipients, arranged marriages and so forth ensue as the mistaken identities and Dorante’s faulty (yet inventive) memory cause his strings of lies to turn into an mangled web. Eventually the truth surfaces in a big reveal and all is untangled and set right in a conclusion that is “all a lie and yet the truth.”
What is most impressive about the piece is how it manages to work on so many different levels. Those familiar with the style and other works of that time are treated to allusions to Macbeth (“All the world’s a lie, and all the men and women merely liars”), Hamlet (“trippingly on the tongue”) Moliere (The Imaginary Invalid), and there is even a reference to Socrates (“The unimagined life is not worth living”). There are also several groan-worthy rhymes thrown in for good measure such as “you may be a bivalve, but you’re my valve.”
Although the play is in many ways an inversion of “The Comedy of Errors” in that it shares a similar plot structure and quite a few parallels with the character conflicts, the modernized pentameter and ingenious use of half-rhymes is such that audiences, regardless of their familiarity with Shakespearean language, will find the piece laugh-till-you-cry entertaining.