LAGUNA BEACH — Ron Campbell is brilliant in the Laguna Playhouse production of Carlo Goldoni's 1750 Venetian confection "The Liar ( Il Bugiardo )." And the translation-adaptation (to a marginally Fellini-esque 1960) by Andrew and Sara Barnicle is absolutely fresh.
As the inveterate fibber Lelio, Campbell must be having deja vu-- especially on the splendid set by Giulio Cesare Perrone, which plunks us down in a richly rendered piazza in Venice. Campbell, who once drew crowds with his own street performances, adds the extra physical tricks that only street actors know.
More crucially, he is our surest guide into a comedy with a Moliere-style plot (and moralities). When the tangle of shenanigans is unraveled, Goldoni makes sure that everyone understands: Lying always has unintended consequences, so it's best not to lie in the first place.
Enter the swooning Florindo (Robert Knox), who orders his servant, Brighella (Brian McCoy), to send anonymous tokens of affection to Rosaura (Della Lisi).
Because Rosaura doesn't know her suitor's name, and because the cad Lelio also has his eye on Rosaura (and on her sister Beatrice, played by Beth Kellermann), and because he makes up lies as easily as he breathes, Lelio poses as the suitor. When Lelio's father, Pantalone (Gary Bell), returns to Venice with the sisters' father, Dr. Balanzoni (John Ross Clark), Lelio is forced to even more baroque levels of lies, to the point that he is posing as a rival suitor.
It's all too much, even for his busy brain, and he receives a fully deserved comeuppance.
Goldoni's ingenuity is to makes us feel seduced by Lelio's concoctions, then able to laugh at the traps Lelio sets for himself.
Campbell can charm you right out of your wallet, then make you stand back and wonder at Lelio's incredible nerve--this combined attraction-detachment is topped with undiluted clowning.
Although his Pantalone arrives late on the scene, Bell constructs a magnificently full character whose eventual towering rage emerges from a father ashamed of his son's two-facedness. Clark is funny as the other aggrieved parent, but as his daughters, Lisi and Kellermann are vocally weak in a company of declarative actors. Knox carefully avoids making his expressively love-struck Florindo a simp.
Like costumer Mary Saadatmanesh, whose work is classy and subdued, and light designer Paulie Jenkins, whose suggestions of reflecting canal water are very subtle, director Andrew Barnicle doesn't play up the excesses of Carnivale (when the action takes place) or of Fellini (which come mostly from the Nino Rota background music).
In fact, what this extremely listenable translation and '60s-era setting most recall is the lighter side of Pier Paolo Pasolini. But there is no obvious urge at the Moulton to do an homage, only the deeper urge to turn clowning into something that hurts.
* "The Liar," Moulton Theater, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends April 2. $13-$22. (714) 497-9244. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.