Jeff Sproul and Alicia Barnatchez in Wisconsin/photography by Darren Kaminsky
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
Part of the appeal of Liars is you can believe what you like. Each of its eight short comedies is unique, so it’s up to the audience to decide who’s fooling who. And, because each play leaps straight into the deep end, you’ll have to do so quickly. Director Lindsey Moore holds the show to her guarantee of 75 minutes, but doesn’t compromise on the fun and games. This urgency isn’t just compelling for the audience, it’s engaging for the actors, who find thoroughly grin-worthy ways to build the momentum from play to play. These seven versatile and hardworking actors adhere to Moore’s meticulous timing and staging to make each tightly-wound play a success. From moment to moment they assume different characters, costumes and settings, especially those cast in back-to-back scenes, creating a fun and spontaneous program: the audience is hooked from the get-go and in constant excited anticipation the entire evening.
The goofy humor and self-aware melodrama makes this evening a blast, but some shows are certainly better than others. Weight, LOL, The Meeting, Peek, and Wisconsin find the humor of seemingly simple situations, and also nail humanity’s vulnerability. The remaining three plays, on the other hand, fail to do so, which makes them incoherent and absurd. After all, these shorts work best when each playwright uses comedy to reveal our deepest social anxieties and most guarded nervous habits. Whether ascending that ominous modern oracle known as the scale (Weight), entering an online chatroom (LOL), receiving well-intentioned but insincere encouragement after a disastrous career move (The Meeting), going through with a first date despite second thoughts (Peek), or harboring a homemade lunch from a hungry coworker (Wisconsin), the candid realism behind Liars ultimately makes one out of all of us, evoking situations we all have been through. Just like in real life, the characters in each play believe each other when they shouldn’t and don’t immediately question things they aren’t ready to learn the truth about. These serious moral themes remain lighthearted, however, due to the cast’s wholesale-sized supply of energy. In fact, their interactive chemistry only heats up further as costars and dynamics change throughout the evening.
As the slick Hollywood agent who hates negativity, Olivia Horton in The Meeting is sassy, classy, and irresistible. Her fast-talking, overconfident performance is a delightful taste of L.A. smarm which brightens up and rejuvenates the entire revue. In Peek, Alicia Barnatchez is recently divorced and ready to start dating again. Her costar in this play, the highlight of the evening, is charmingly awkward funny man Jeremy Mather. Directly after, in Wisconsin, Barnatchez takes the stage again as a die-hard native of her home state. When asked why she won’t share her eight-ounce block of Wisconsin Brick, she answers with all the seriousness and protectiveness of a maternal lioness, this cheese is my birthright! This exaggerated take on an everyday scenario is just the kind of slapstick hilarity found in each fast-paced script. The laughs never quite subside as one play ends and another begins, and Moore’s shrewd directing maintains this sense of continuity by arranging each play to complement what precedes and follows, preventing any choppy transitions.
Lighting and sound technician and LOL playwright Caroline O’Hare also engages the audience during each scene change by blasting topical guilty pleasure tunes (including Fleetwood Mac). O’Hare takes the lying theme (and the overall production) even further with this ingenious finishing touch, while at the same time fending off awkward silences and the checking of watches among ticketholders. A great premise that translates well onstage through its high-spirited yet ultra-focused execution, Liars shows us that even as a spectator sport, innocent fibbing still proves to be great fun; just be sure to deny any corroboration you may be associated with as you enjoy the show.-------------------------------------------
Liars (75 minutes; no intermission)
Under St. Mark's (94 St. Mark's Place)
Tickets (www.smarttix.com): $15
Performances (through 5/23): Thurs.-Sats. 8pm