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The Playgoer: Compass Rose Theater’s The Liar

Fake News, 1644 Style

(photo by Stan Barouh)/ Both Clarice (Suzy Alden) and Lucrece (Anna Kurtz) are wooed by the dashing, duplicitous Dorante. Will love win out in the end?

       Mistaken identities, a hero’s fondness for unashamed exaggeration and the quest for love permeate The Liar, Richard Wilbur’s modern interpretation of Pierre Corneille’s 1644 farce, his most famous comedy. Under the deft guidance of director Steve Tobin, Compass Rose Theater’s production is not only well acted and well staged but also an ageless play you want to watch.

            The play centers on the dashing but duplicitous Dorante, played with handsome flair by Mark Frazier. New in Paris, he tells tall stories about his brave military exploits to woo a new love. But is his love Clarice … or Lucrece?

            Confusion ensues and continues as Dorante uses what we’ve learned to call fake news and alternative facts to wrest himself out of self-made quandaries and into what he thinks is true love. But both Lucrece and Clarice figure him out — why is it women always figure men out, but we can’t figure them out? Still, love wins in the end.

            Tobin’s professional cast delivers the play’s iambic pentameter with confidence and clarity, turning almost rhymes into humorous moments. Characters often break through theater’s fourth wall to talk with us about their insights into the goings-on.

            Jordan Campbell brings a rakish charm to Dorante’s servant Cliton. He opens by cleverly and rhymingly offering us the usual pre-show information about exits and iPhones and no videotaping. As the show goes on, he is effective and funny thrashing about in the wake of his master’s lies.

            Suzy Alden’s Clarice is strong, funny and pointed in her disdain for Dorante’s lies. Anna Kurtz’s Lucrece takes a back seat to Clarice, but she has her humorous moments as the truth dawns. As Alcippe, Dorante’s friend and Clarice’s fiancé, Alex Turner is animated and energetic, his high-strung comedic persona the perfect foil to Dorante’s calm confidence.

            Edd Miller as Geronte, Dorante’s concerned father, gives us a nice cross between paternal love and fatherly frustration as he bears the brunt of his son’s lies. Geronte may threaten to disown his son, but Miller allows his love for his son to show through. Neko Ramons is strong as Philiste, servant to Alcippe. As Clarice and Lucrece’s servants, Stephanie Ichniowski as Isabelle and Allyson Boate as Sabine each provide some very funny moments in two roles often played as twins by one actress. In this case, the individuality serves each role well.

            As always at Compass Rose, the set is minimal, with sliding doors and a few rectangular set pieces moving from horizontal to vertical to cleverly provide the effect of various locations. Costumes are gorgeous and appropriate to the time, while props as well are kept to a minimum. That’s good, because it’s not about extravagance but rather about the words and the situations those words create.

            This is a funny show about human nature, and while it’s set in the 1600s, its laugh-out-loud humor and lessons apply just as easily today. 

Costume designer: Katie Boothroyd. Stage manager: Caitlin Weller. Lighting designer: Marianne Meadows. Props: Joann and Mike Gidos.

Two hours with one intermission. Playing thru Oct. 8: FSa 8pm, SaSu 2pm, plus Th Sept. 21 and 28 7pm, Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis, $23-$38, rsvp: ­compassrosetheater.org.