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UM Theatre’s Opening Play Challenges Actors with Poetry and Comedy

By Whitney Rigdon

University of Mississippi

Paleif Raspberry (left) plays Lucrece and Don Walker plays Dorante in the upcoming production of ‘The Liar,’ the first production of the 2023-24 season for the University of Mississippi Department of Theatre and Film. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The University of Mississippi Department of Theatre and Film kicks off its fall production season this weekend with the romantic comedy “The Liar.”

The production opens Friday (Sept. 22) and runs through Oct. 8 in Meek Hall Auditorium. Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22-23 and 26-29 and Oct. 3-6 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 23-24 and Oct. 1 and 8. Tickets are $15 for Ole Miss students and $20 for the general public. To purchase tickets, visit the UM Box Office.

Comedic playwright David Ives adapted the story from Pierre Corneille’s 1644 “Le Menteur.” The story follows Dorante, a compulsive liar who has arrived in Paris, and blends poetry with physical comedy and farce. Dorante immediately falls in love with Clarice, whom he has mistaken for her best friend, Lucrece.

Hannah Rose Richards, a junior acting major from Brandon, plays Clarice. She describes the production as “a show all about people being confused about who they’re in love with and everyone’s pursuing the wrong people.”

Written completely in rhyming couplets, this story takes its audience through a humorous journey to find true romance.

“My vision for the play is that it is like a champagne bubble,” said Lauren Bone Noble, an assistant professor of movement and the play’s director. “It is light, it is airy, it is delightful and giddy. There is nothing about it that is heavy or plodding.

“It’s about the healing power of laughter and laughing communally with others. It’s one thing to watch a movie or television show by yourself and laugh a little, but it’s another thing to laugh in a big group. You’re having this profound communal experience.”

Noble said she hopes that the actors, designers, crew and audience will all experience coming together in joy and laughter.

A primary reason the department chose this play is because the faculty wants to expose students to different styles, rather than always doing contemporary plays or musicals, Noble said. This helps them become better at their crafts, she explained.

The actors have been challenged to learn how to work in such extremely stylized comedy, Noble said.

“It is a physical challenge,” she said. “It’s highly physical, so we want to teach actors how to do physical comedy, which is very technique-based. Comedy is timing and has a rhythm of its own.”

Richards said this role is very different from her previous ones, as the style of the play requires actors to be more “over-the-top” than normal.

“It was challenging for me to try to learn to let yourself do what you want to do and be bigger than you think you should be.” she said. “It was hard for me initially to find the earnesty in playing a character like that, but being earnest, especially in comedy, is the key to selling it.”

Richards credited the direction of Noble with helping her to overcome those challenges.

“She gives us such great advice about how to better tap into your body and the side of your brain that is a little sillier, but it makes for good shows,” she said. “I guess it came down to having enough confidence in myself as an actor to trust that I was capable of making those decisions and doing it well.”

Richards said the progress she has made has helped her make better choices for her character.

“It’s very freeing, and I think that’s something that I’ve really, really loved being able to do,” she said. “It was really daunting at first … and it was also very rewarding whenever you got it right.”

Senior interdisciplinary studies major Don Waller, of Jackson, plays the main character, and he believes that everyone can relate to Dorante in some way.

“The line that’s my favorite is: ‘”The Liar” shows us what might be and brings us joy,'” Waller said. “So his whole idea of lying is not getting the best of everybody but more like, ‘This world is full of liars; at least my lies are making people’s lives better.'”

Waller has wanted to play this character since he read the play as a sophomore. However, because his acting experience is mainly in musicals, Waller faced the challenge of learning to dive into a role written in pentameter and comedic style.

“With a musical, you have the music to kind of carry the story along,” he said. “With this, you have to figure out how to use the pentameter to your advantage while also keeping the audience engaged.”

“It’s a lot of figuring out how it fits in with your performance. And while that sounds like a lot, the more you bring to the rehearsal space, the more you find.”

Noble said she cast actors that were able to rise to the challenge of the text, rather than bringing the language down to them.

“I needed actors who could do that and wouldn’t try to make it seem like a contemporary piece,” she said. “What these students are accomplishing is really incredible. I am always blown away by their work ethic and their ability to jump in and really go for it.”

While all the dialogue is scripted, the play has physical aspects that are left up to the actors and director to include in order to give their audience the best show possible.

“In this kind of play, there is the comedy of the lines themselves, then there is the comedy that each individual actor will bring to the piece,” Noble said.

The Ole Miss production includes several moments in which these comedic bits have been added by the director and actors to “rise up to the comedy itself.”

“It’s about making new choices and keeping people on their toes so that you never really watch the same show twice,” Richards said.

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