By: Paulanne Simmons
Two-time Tony winner Joe DiPietro‘s Clever little Lies is a polished comedy with a surprising twist in the middle and lots of sad truths about human nature throughout. It is very well directed by David Saint who, with considerable expertise, helps the characters navigate between various psychological and physical locales. The show features George Merrick as Billy and Kate Wetherhead as Jane, a young couple with a baby and marital problems that threaten to end their union; and Marlo Thomas as Alice and Greg Mullavey, as Bill, their earnest and somewhat over-involved parents.
These characters behave in ways that are familiar and understandable to most theatergoers. And a few decades ago, this was the stuff comedy hits were made of. Today critics ask why there are no minorities in the cast, why we should care about fairly well-to-do people who are not suffering from the inequities of society, why no one is gay, why no one is on drugs and why no one has secret (or not-so-secret) perversions.
This throw-back comedy about marital infidelity is updated by the characters’ frequent use of four-letter words and an abundance of sexual references. But it’s clear the older couple is quite stuck in the past. Alice, who owns a bookstore, is perplexed by the taste of her customers, which runs to T-shirts, mugs and soft porn. Bill is appalled when, after losing a game of tennis, his son confesses that his distraction is the result of an affair he is having with his 23-year old trainer at the gym.
Even Billy’s overly graphic description of what the trainer does in bed does not make this an up-to-date comedy. After all, his father still manages to be shocked at a time when people consistently make the private public on Facebook and during loud cell phone conversations in restaurants, at the bank and even in bathroom stalls.
The cast is particularly good at comic timing. Thomas succeeds in remaining sympathetic and charming while revealing secrets that put her in a less than saintly light. Mullavey will remind more than a few women of their own bumbling, well-intentioned husbands.
During the first few scenes Merrick makes Billy so selfish and immature one can’t help thinking Jane would be better off if he followed his inclinations and left her for that trainer who is so insensitive she keeps calling him even after his mother answers the phone. It’s also a bit hard to believe that Jane hasn’t figured out what’s going in. (Really, the guy’s clearly got his mind on other things, seems to be making plans to escape to Hawaii and spends all his time at the gym getting in shape, and Jane hasn’t got a clue?) But as the character grows up the audience is allowed to grow fonder of them.
Yoshi Tanokura has created Alice and Bill’s living room with a meticulous attention to detail we’re used to seeing in sit-coms, updated with video landscapes that put this family squarely in Manhattan and the well-heeled suburbs.
Clever Little Lies is not the kind of show that will win any awards or the glowing accolades of critics. But it will provide a night of entertainment and easy wisdom to the few lucky people who will for once leave the theater without a bad taste in their mouth.
Clever Little Lies has been extended through March 20 at Westside Theatre, 407 West 43 Street, www.cleverlittlelies.com.
Photo: Mathew Murphy