David Ives' entertainingly silly farce The Liar is a smart comedy about stupid people, adapted loosely from Pierre Corneille's 1644 play Le Menteur. Ives (Venus in Fur) is known for his aggressively playful use of language, so it is no surprise that in adapting the 368-year-old text, he opted to stick with the original's structure of rhyming couplets.
Yes, in The Liar—the third show in Marin Shakespeare Company's summer trio of plays—everybody speaks in rhyme, though Ives occasionally stretches the definition of "rhyme" to its extreme, pairing the words "Louvre" and "Move-re," "Isabelle" and "visa-belle," even offering the tortured observation, "You cannot speak the truth / To Christian, Muslim, Hindu or . . . Jew-th."
Directed by Robert Currier with plenty of comic sass, The Liar follows the antics of compulsive liar Dorante (an in-his-element Darren Bridgett), who has come to town in search of a wealthy woman to marry. The dashing newcomer causes a flurry of local chatter with his stories of adventure and bravery in war, none of which is true. Dorante spins a wild web of fabrications, each one more outrageous than the last. Unflappable, he tells new lies to explain his last ones, managing to keep ahead of everyone . . . for a while.
After engaging the services of Cliton (Stephen Muterspaugh), a servant for hire who is incapable of telling a fib, Dorante encounters a pair of well-to-do ladies: the sexy and vivacious Clarece (Cat Thompson) and the lovely but reserved Lucrece (Elena Wright). Instantly smitten with Clarece, and unimpressed with the silent Lucrece (he nicknames her "the clam"), Dorante somehow gets their names mixed up . . . and the lies pile up thicker and thicker.
The cast is first-rate, sinking its collective teeth into Ives' outrageous rhymes and ridiculous wordplay with a joy matched only by the script itself. As Alcippe, Clarice's sensitive but prone-to-anger fiancé, James Hiser is a stitch, managing to make his snarling reactions both pathetic and endearing. Natasha Noel, as identical twin servants to Clarece and Lucrece, is a delight, as is Jarion Monroe as Dorante's loving but clueless father.
The story is occasionally confusing, but then the plot is not the point of Ives' tongue-twisty romp. Late in the show, Dorante tells Lucrece, "You may be a bivalve . . . but you're my valve." The point of The Liar is solely to give David Ives the opportunity to write lines like that.
'The Liar' runs Friday–Sunday through Sept. 23 at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre. Dominican University, 50 Acacia Ave., San Rafael. Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 4pm. $20–$35. 415.499.4488.