Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Marlo Thomas Delights in World Premiere Clever Little Lies

Marlo Thomas and Greg Mullavey
Clever Little Lies, a comedy-drama featuring Marlo Thomas, is receiving its world premiere production at the George Street Playhouse. It is about Bill, Jr. (Jim Stanek), a 35-year-old married man with a four-month-old daughter who is having an affair with his beautiful 23-year-old personal trainer. Certain that he cannot live without her, Jr. is prepared to leave his wife and daughter.

In the locker room of their New York City tennis club, Jr. reveals his on-going infidelity to his father, Bill, Sr. (Greg Mullavey). Ostensively, this is because Jr. is desperate for someone to talk to about it. Jr. adds that under no circumstances is Bill, Sr. to make any mention of this to his wife (Jr.s mother) Alice (Marlo Thomas). Yet, Jr. well knows that his father is incapable of keeping anything secret from her.

When Sr. returns to their suburban home, it is only a matter of minutes until Alice wheedles the details of their son's affair from him. Sr. and Alice are beside themselves at the prospect of the break-up of their son's marriage. Alice is soon on the phone successfully inveigling both Jr. and his wife, Jane (Kate Wetherhead) to visit them that very night. The lengthy final scene which follows is filled with twists and surprises.

The New Jersey born and bred Joe DiPietro is best known for the wildly successful I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (book and lyrics), which ran for 12 years at the Westside Arts Theatre, and the musicals All Shook Up(book), Memphis (book and, with David Bryan, lyrics), and Nice Work If You Can Get It (book). His warm family comedy, Across the River and Through the Woods, which had an early production at Teaneck's defunct American Stage Company, ran for two years commencing in 1996 at Manhattan's West Side Arts Theatre.

The New Jersey born and bred DiPietro, a prolific playwright who has written additional musicals (including The Toxic Avenger, with Bryan), has continued to write plays throughout his career. New Jersey audiences have had the good fortune to see most of them. Humor and warmth have been the most common motifs for him. However, he is a serious craftsman whose ambition and reach extend further. This is evident in his play Creating Claire (which premiered at George Street three years ago), about a family rent by the stresses of raising a completely affectless teenage daughter, which extensively explored intellectual and philosophical issues.

Written, directed and performed in sharp comic style, Clever Little Lies is filled with laughs. Yet it is always apparent that DiPietro is concerned with serious issues which his characters and storyline illuminate. My one reservation about the play is that its tone and character depiction fail to prepare us for its low key, melancholy resolution. It would not be fair to further elaborate, but the plot twist that leads to it is not needed to lend weight to the play and its valuable observations about the obligations of marriage and the effects of infidelity. And yet, Lies is a valuable antidote to a culture which proselytizes that failure to give full reign to one's id is to deny oneself fulfillment and happiness.

An example of the quality of the writing is Bill, Sr.'s response to being told the age of his son's girlfriend:

Billy, listen to me—twenty-three isn't a person—it's an age. You have fallen in love with an age. And marriage—okay marriage can be relentless. But you have a wife and an infant—you're creating the center of your life. And unless things are horrible at home—are things horrible at home?

Marlo Thomas and Greg Mullavey perform hand in glove like a veteran comedy team who have perfected their roles vis-a-vis one another for a long career. This is appropriate to their roles of a long married couple whose relationship is marked by the continuity of tropes which satisfy one another's needs.

Jim Stanek has a likeable comic touch which is just right for Billy, Jr. Kate Wetherhead is an unlikeably stressed out Jane. This characterization, which seems to arise more from her performance than the script, seems just the ticket in order for us not to turn off to her philandering husband.

The excellent set design—a locker room, a car on the road at night, and (for most of the play) a well-appointed suburban home (living room and environs)—by Yoshi Tanokura is handsomely abetted by evocative digital projections which place each set in its wider context. David Saint has directed the play and its performances in a performance style consistent with and fully supportive of the writing.

Over the course of its 75 minute running time, the one-act Clever Little Lies provides a solid measure of laughter and wisdom.

Clever Little Lies—performances resume 11/30—(Evenings: Tuesday - Saturday (except 12/5) 8 pm; Sunday (except 12/15) 7 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 2 pm ) through December 15, 2013 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, N.J. 08901; Box Office: 732-246-7717; Online:

Clever Little Lies by Joe DiPietro; directed by David Saint

Bill, Sr…………………..Greg Mullavey
Bill, Jr……………………….Jim Stanek
Alice…………………….Marlo Thomas
Jane………………...Kate Wetherhead

Photo: T. Charles Erickson

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