Clever Little Lies: Theater review by Raven Snook
Writer Joe DiPietro has forged an impressive career courting the middle-class, middlebrow, straight crowd. His unchallenging feel-good shows offer familiar laughs of the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus variety, not to mention brief running times that get his fans back to Teaneck, New Jersey, before midnight. Hey, there's nothing wrong with knowing your audience and delivering. He even picked up a pair of Tonys for his lyrics and book to Memphis, and his breakthrough relationship revue, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, played for a dozen years at the same Off-Broadway theater where Clever Little Lies has set up shop. Unfortunately, I don't foresee as long a residence for this obvious comedy about adultery.
After a grueling game of tennis at the club, new dad Billy (George Merrick) confesses to his father, Billy Sr. (veteran character actor Greg Mullavey, elevating the material) that he's cheating on his wife. Worse, he's in love, and oversharing about sex on the beach. His dad doesn't want to hear it and neither will most of the audience. Though he's sworn to secrecy, the patriarch soon reveals all to his wife, Alice (Marlo Thomas, well-cast as the proverbial overbearing mama), and she sets a plan in motion to stabilize her son's shaky marriage.
The whole affair plays out like an R-rated family sitcom, with hoary humor and a generic style—the handsome but hollow design elements do nothing to enhance these 2D characters. Toward the end, there's a jarring turn toward pathos, and though this is David Saint's third time directing the material (he helmed a pair of regional productions), he's unable to smoothly navigate the improbable tone shift. And yet, there were audible giggles and even sniffles on the night I attended. If jokes like, "When she goes down on me, she always has this look on her face, like she's this martyr, like she's Joan of Arc for giving me a blow job," tickle your funny bone, this show may do it for you. For everyone else, prepare to get that same pained expression his wife does when forced to swallow this tripe.
Westside Theatre (Off Broadway). By Joe DiPietro. Directed by David Saint. With Marlo Thomas, Greg Mullavey, George Merrick, Kate Wetherhead. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.