‘Clever Little Lies’ at The Westside Theatre in New York City

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.

Marlo Thomas and Greg Mallavey. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Marlo Thomas and Greg Mallavey. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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.

The cast of ‘Clever Little Lies.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.
The cast of ‘Clever Little Lies.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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.

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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.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


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