It is rare that a play contains only despicable characters. This is what Perfect Mendacity, however, has achieved. In a paranoid tale of biologist Walter Kreutzer (Hal Barrow), who is put to a lie detector about betraying government secrets, each character’s true nature is exposed, even as the lines between truth and falsehood blur.
Perfect Mendacity’s menace comes from its characters’ ambiguity. The character of D’Avore Peeps (Anna McDonald), for example, shifts constantly, McDonald physically shifting around stage as her manner switches between friendly and removed. Emma-Rose Bouffler, too, unpredictably changes her portrayal of Samira Kreuzer between timid and easily confused, defiant and sure of her opinions, and completely deranged.
While this sometimes comes at the expense of consistency, it increases the audience’s sympathy for Walter Kreutzer – no wonder he starts to believe that everyone is against him when not even the audience can pin down those closest to him.
The only large downside of this production is its set design. Impressive was the fact that they had what, to an inexperienced observer like myself, could plausibly have been a lie detector. The rest of the set, however, seemed somehow simultaneously sparse and overly complex.
While sparsity of set is often a strength in the Corpus Playroom, as it allows for more physical freedom and quicker scene changes, this show’s cloths and carpets often seemed more of a hindrance than a help for the cast, who were tasked with moving them around in between each scene.
This production is brave and successful in its readiness to allow long, tension-filled silences, but the long scene changes had a negative effect on the overall pace of the play.
Otherwise, the direction and performance of this play should be praised. Despite having chosen a challenging script, the cast still managed to keep us guessing which horrific facts about Walter’s past were about to be revealed, but kept us engaged and interested in his eventual fate.
His final act of the play also left it delightfully ambiguous whether he was capable of redemption, or self-preserving until the end. The production contained some brief and interesting discussions of the psychology of lying – it was neat that red lighting symbolised Walter’s mental ‘red button’.
In the end, some fundamental questions remain up for interpretation: were the play’s events true, or twisted to Walter’s paranoia? Is it possible to create the perfect lie? And which is more important: a perfect lie detector, or the fear that the lie detector inspires? This show demonstrates that truth is in the eye of the beholder – as such, the audience themselves must choose how to define it.