Ives true to form in 'The Liar' adaptation at playhouse

David Ives is a very busy playwright -- his "Lives of the Saints" opened to rave reviews in New York earlier this year and upcoming projects include a new Stephen Sondheim musical -- but he made time for some tweaking of the Westport Country Playhouse season opener, "The Liar."

Ives first adapted the 1646 Pierre Corneille comedy five years ago for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where it took the city's top stage prize for outstanding new play.

Unlike his own comedies, and the hit drama, "Venus in Fur," "The Liar" is a verse play that demands more attention, the playwright said.

"I don't tend to go back to plays, but the plots are more complicated with verse. You straighten out the iambic pentameter. With this one I've taken three passes. By the time we reached Westport, I had the text pretty much completed," he said of the show running through Saturday, May 23, at the playhouse.

"The Liar" follows its title character, Dorante, whose elaborate fibs -- and bad memory -- get him into deep trouble with two young women after he confuses their names.

Although Ives' original plays have been highly acclaimed, going all the way back to his hugely popular collection of one-act comedies, "All in the Timing," in 1993, the writer has continued to enjoy working on new adaptations of classic scripts. For many years, he did the revised librettos for the "Encores!" stagings of vintage musicals at City Center in Manhattan.

"I'm very bad at plots, to tell the truth," the playwright said, with a laugh. "I'm always glad to be handed a plot so I can see how to do it.

"You're in a world where people say what they want ... there's not much subtext," he said of the straightforward narrative of a classic comedy like "The Liar."

At any given time, Ives tends to have several plays circling around in his imagination waiting for a place in his schedule when they can be produced.

He counts himself lucky to have a good working relationship with New York nonprofit theaters, such as the Classic Stage Company and Primary Stages, where his new scripts can be tested.

"We hold a reading and get a sense of the play. I've been doing this so long that I don't have to send a play to a theater and see if they like it. The way is paved," he said.

Ives sometimes wishes he was a playwright in an earlier era when a producer would option a new script, book some out-of-town try-out theaters and bring it into New York City -- all in the course of one season.

"I love that old system. I think theater can be at its best when it's quick and dirty," he said.

Ives is still in the early stages of development of a new musical with Sondheim based on two thematically similar Luis Bunuel films, "The Exterminating Angel" and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie."

"I wrote a chunk of book, which he musicalized. Then we discussed the placement of the next part of the book with a whole batch of notes and talking points," he said.

Working with one of the greatest figures in modern musical theater has been a career high for Ives. "It is the most fun in the world to be sitting with (our) Mozart and Verdi and have him play for me."

"The Liar" is on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, through Saturday, May 23. Tickets are $50-$30. To reserve seats or for more information, call 203-227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.