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A CurtainUp Review
Clever Little Lies

Okay, so maybe it's just a friendship. Maybe you're confusing friendship with . . . ? — Bill Sr.

We have sex all the time, Dad, every time we see each other we can't wait to get naked and have this animal bam-bam-bam! sex. Is that what you'd you call a friend? — Billy
Clever Little Lies
Marlo Thomas, and Greg Mullavey (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
That Girl meets Mary Hartman' s husband. And together seventies' television stars, Marlo Thomas (That Girl) and Greg Mullavey (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) light up the stage in Clever Little Lies at the Westside Theatre. They' re both in top form. And playwright Joe DiPietro has given them a spirited comedy that never comes up for air until it switches gears and ends as a bittersweet contemplation of love and the pain it can bring.

In some ways Clever Little Lies is like a situation comedy. In both, a special circumstance — the situation— is introduced at the get-go. The rest of the show is spent resolving the predicament, simultaneously dealing with its ramifications, and often trying to keep its existence secret.

In many sitcoms the quest to restore order is led by Mom, Dad being a somewhat clueless bystander. Occasionally, it will wax philosophical in the final minute or two. What sets Clever Little Lies apart from a standard issue sitcom is its heightened nuance and overall sophistication. The complexity of its characters is another distinguishing characteristic. Mullavey' s character, for example, has far more depth than is immediately apparent.

the play' s ultimate detour into a more sober space is far less facile and considerably more meaningful than is customary with the broadcast brand. The ending is also a more integral part of the plot rather than add-on commentary.

Clever Little Lies begins in the locker room after Bill Sr.'s (Mullavey) weekly tennis game with his son Billy (George Merrick). Billy tells Bill, in the strictest of confidence, that he' s having an affair, with a special admonition not to tell his mother, Alice (Thomas). Bill tries to convince Billy to end it, to no avail. He also warns Billy that Alice has an uncanny knack for knowing when he's hiding something and extracting the hidden information. Sure enough, that night, Alice senses that something is wrong and gets Bill to tell her, albeit without the specifics, there' s a problem in their son's marriage. She strong-arms Billy and his wife Jane (Kate Wetherhead) into coming over with their newborn daughter. She concludes that Billy is doing it with Jasmine, a personal trainer at his gym. After allowing the word affair to slip out in front of Jane, Alice claims she meant an affair she had thirty years ago with a grad student named Arthur. She enlarges on the story of their romance. At first we and Bill Sr. think she's making it up, but that changes as she proceeds to relate the history of their affair in meticulous detail. Bill is devastated. Alice saves one marriage — while opening a wound in another. It's an ending that strikes home.

As Alice, Thomas is a benevolent dictator. She knows what' s best for everyone and they' d better tow the line. She brings a core of emotional truth to a character that could easily be played too large. For much of the comedy, Mullavey's Bill has a goofy quality. You wonder how he' d survive without his clear-thinking wife. At the same time, he's sensitive and caring, and by the play's end we see how deep his emotions run. Mullavey' s performance is poignantly affecting.Merrick exudes comic testosterone as Billy's mind focuses on one thing only: how can he get back to Jasmine as soon as possible. As new mother Jane, Wetherhead combines whiny exhaustion with obsessive concern for her newborn. She also knows she's been neglecting her husband but is unable to do anything about it.

Director David Saint makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The four characters always seem to be conscious of each other. There's a synergy among them. and a heightened awareness that makes the play register on more meaningful level.

Writer DiPietro' s structure may be conventional, but its execution is flawless. Plot developments follow each other like links in a chain, liberally greased with humor to move them along.

The main set, Bill and Alice's living room, is also conventional, reflecting its owners. Set designer Yoshi Tanokura adds a playful design flourish when Billy and Jane drive up to Westchester and dizzying projections mark their progress along the Henry Hudson Parkway.

The surprising thing about Clever Little Lies is how it combines humorous fluff with substantial emotion. Its seemingly opposing aspects don't diminish each other. In fact, they complement each other. Not an easy thing to pull off.
Clever Little Lies by Joe DiPietro
Directed by David Saint
Cast: Marlo Thomas (Alice), Greg Mullavey (Bill, Sr.), George Merrick (Billy), Kate Wetherhead (Jane)
Scenic design: Yoshi Tanokura
Costume designer: Esther Arroyo
Lighting designer: Christopher J. Bailey
Sound design and composition: Scott Killian
Stage manager: Jillian M. Oliver
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Westside Theatre (Upstairs), 407 West 43rd Street
Opening October 12; closing 3/20/16 AT THE WESTSIDE THEAT for a sixteen week engagement
Reviewed by Michael Bracken based on October 9 performance
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