The Joke's on You, Too

The question of why we humans lie has certainly been explored by writers, sociologists and child psychologists alike. But like our other inherent inclinations toward morally questionable behavior, the subject continues to baffle—and inspire—us. No Tea Productions’ Liars, a compilation of eight one-act comedies by eight different writers, examines lying through a broad, sometimes fantastical lens: among its more extreme characters are a Red Bull-fueled film agent, a homicidal Santa Claus and a bathroom scale prone to vicious insults. At its most poignant, however, the work discovers irony and humor in everyday scenarios that are likely to ring true and be almost embarrassingly familiar. On several occasions it honestly and effectively nails us, while keeping us in on the joke. Liars starts off with Jeremy Mather’s "Sausage Party," a work that heavily draws on this idea of familiarity and also prevails as one of the collection’s most memorable pieces. Set at a generic house party (think pretzel bags, handles of vodka and Dixie cups), Mather’s work narrates a hilarious collision between Brad (Jesse Bernath), his straight-talking girlfriend Cassie (Sabrina Farhi), and Brad’s sloppy, relentlessly embarrassing friend Isaac (Mather himself). As we watch these characters casually double-cross each other to fulfill temporary urges and save face, we are likely to recognize our own tendencies to cop out with a white lie. Mather’s text is raunchy without delving into gross-out territory, and includes several effectively timed one-liners.

The following two plays, "Weight" by director Lindsey Moore and "LOL" by Caroline O’Hare, rely on setting up comedic scenarios rather than delving into narratives, but still push Liars forward as a cohesive work. Without uttering a single word, Alicia Barnatchez is magnetic as a woman who tries to make peace with her verbally abusive scale in "Weight," and displays similar, vulnerable spunk as a hopeful chat room visitor in "LOL."

Some of the weakest moments in Liars occur after its midpoint. "Peek," a depiction of a nightmarish first date, benefits from a genuinely funny setup and features another committed performance by Jeremy Mather, but suffers from an excessive number of scenes that give the play a dragging feel. Meanwhile, Joe Musso’s "Wisconsin" and Matt Sears’ "Lore" seem out of place in the production. "Wisconsin" is a stand-alone joke with an unremarkable punch line, while "Lore," a dramatic clash between an enraged Santa and a little girl, is too radical a departure from the collection’s more relatable moments.

Liars picks up at the end, however, with "Evacuation Plan," a clever and heartfelt work penned by No Tea's artistic director Jeff Sproul. Starring Sproul as a guy who unsuccessfully attempts to conceal his odd habits from a new girlfriend, the work contrasts elements of surprising sweetness with an ironic undertone: as some characters discover safety in honesty, others continue to initiate romantic relationships under a false façade.

Transitions from one play to the next are smooth, and good use is made of the small stage at Under St. Marks. The cast of actors, many of whom have appeared in previous No Tea Productions, have thrown themselves into their roles so wholeheartedly that even the image of chairs doubling as urinals doesn’t distract us from their strangely familiar world. Even as we laugh, many of us are likely to shake our heads in uneasy recognition.

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