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Truth be told, Writers’ ‘Liar’ is a marvelous masquerade

LaurRook (from left) Kalen Harriman Nate Burger star “The Liar” Writers’ Theatre.

Laura Rook (from left), Kalen Harriman and Nate Burger star in “The Liar” at Writers’ Theatre.

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When: Through July

Where: Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe

Tickets: $35-$70

Info: (847) 242-6000;

Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission

Updated: July 5, 2013 6:04AM

I am no great fan of 18th century French comedies of manners. A little of all that “lifestyles of the nouveau riche and their servants” goes a very long way. But director William Brown’s production of “The Liar,” now at Writers’ Theatre, is so effervescent, clever and deliciously played that I have been at least temporarily converted.

Matching David Ives’ verbally intoxicating (sometimes exhausting) adaptation, which plays fast and furiously with the rhymed couplets of the original Pierre Corneille classic, Brown very shrewdly orchestrates this tale of Dorante (the fleet, high energy Nate Burger), a young man who has grown up in the hinterlands, studied law, and arrived in Paris determined to enjoy the high life.

Short on cash and status, but hungry for romance and the fashionable life, Dorante uses his fantastic talent for spinning instant fictions to try to win favor, influence people and then dig himself out of tight spots.

Some might call him a compulsive liar. But as he proclaims: “The unimagined life is not worth living.” And so, within record time, he engages a naturally honest servant, Cliton (the hugely engaging LaShawn Banks), and catches the attention of two very different women — the fast-talking, coquettish Clarice (Laura Rook), and the taciturn but elegant Lucrece (Kalen Harriman), both fetchingly outfitted by costume designer Rachel Anne Healy.

Dorante also fires up jealous rage in Clarice’s fiance, Alcippe (Michael Perez), with whom he engages in one of the more hilarious duels imaginable (cheers to Burger and Perez, fight choreographer Tyler Rich and sound designer Andrew Hansen), as his clear-sighted pal, Philiste (Samuel Ashdown) looks on. And in the play’s darkest and most crucial moment, Dorante also enrages his father (the excellent Jonathan Weir), who feels betrayed by his son’s lies.

Last but certainly not least are the show’s two ladies’ maids, Isabelle and Sabine — polar-opposite personalities brilliantly embodied by a single actress, Anne E. Thompson, who very easily steals the show. Thompson’s rapidfire transitions — from ferociously starchy and moralistic girl to sweetly flirty and innocent one — are comic perfection.

“The Liar” is part giddily baroque, color-saturated, Lady Gaga-like music video, part meditation on self-“reinvention,” and part wink-and-nod at the conventions of theater itself, which is, after all, a great fiction masquerading as truth. But the play also is a reminder that while theater can be a wonderfully instructive arena for picking up pointers on behavior and style, when it comes to real life emotions, honesty is the best policy.

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