Author Joe DiPietro has delivered a cozy little play that sits comfortably somewhere between situation comedy and family drama. It starts in a tennis club locker room as a brisk and brittle comedy in which a 30 something man confesses to his father that he’s got a secret he “cannot reveal” (but of course he reveals it). As smartly played by Greg Mullavey (“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”) and George Merrick, we settle back expecting to spend the next hour in Neil Simon territory, for Mr. DiPietro knows his way around snappy dialog that has the ring of truth about it, and his two actors know just how to extract every ounce of humor.
We next move to the living room where Dad lives happily with his wife Alice, who’s profession is motherhood though she goes to work every day selling best sellers that earn her comfortable discretionary income but not much fulfillment. The latter comes strictly from her darling son Billy and his devoted wife June and the little one they brought to the family only months earlier. Alice is played by the endearing Marlo Thomas and she’s brought her gravel voice and her instinctive comedy timing to the role. She may well have been attracted to this project because Mr. diPietro has taken her further into the darker side of this seemingly perfect family, and he’s given Ms. Thomas’ character a chance to do what she does best, to “help her son” for as she puts it: “That’s what parents do. They have children so they can help them.” The family is completed by her son Billy’s wife, the young mother June. The trip we take in this ninety minute one act play is one in which we explore what lies of omission can do to a family that is inextricably tied together.
Yoshi Tanokura has designed a living room that looks more like it belongs behind ropes as a display in a furniture store than it does a room in which Alice and Bill Sr. have been living for 25 years. But it does accurately reflect a sort of white bread contentment until the truth pops out; then it becomes a fierce combat zone in which all of the relationships are examined and we are left in the end with a shift in the dynamics of this family.
It’s all played for real by this excellent quartet and it’s staged by David Saint so that its surprises are effectively delivered as the evening progresses. The results are perhaps a bit neater than they ever are on this side of the stage, but the play sticks to its guns and concludes inconclusively which is a good thing. In a less well crafted work, one less contemporary, it would have had a wrapped in a ribbon neat little ending. As it’s written it’s a comforting and easily digestible light meal, which brings the very welcome Marlo Thomas and Greg Mullavey back to live theatre where they certainly belong. Kate Wetherhead and George Merrick as their offspring are right up there with them to steer this neat little play safely home after it’s weathered a perfect storm fed by the clever little life lies that prove to be not so clever and only seemingly little.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Clever Little Lies is playing at The Westside Theatre (Upstairs) – 407 West 43rd Street, in New York City. For tickets, go to the box office, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or purchase them online.