Prolific playwright Joe DiPietro (Memphis; The Toxic Avenger; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) had an off-Broadway hit with his 2013 comedy Clever Little Lies, currently being presented at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown. The show starts out as an amiable enough comedy, yet by the end it has made its way into darker territory in which the characters’ cleverness provides no defense.
The first half of this one-act play (the first three scenes) establishes us in familiar sitcom territory. Bill Senior’s married son Billy has confessed to falling in love with another woman, and makes his dad promise not to say anything to his mother, Alice. Naturally, Bill’s father leaves enough clues (while thinking he is cleverly deceiving Alice) so that his wife guesses their son’s secret. To make matters worse, Alice is convinced that Billy’s wife Jane must be told the situation. In the fourth and final scene, things come to a head during a disastrous get-together at Bill Sr. and Alice’s home. One final lie that rings with just a little too much truth brings the evening to an unsettled close, leaving the audience guessing about the futures of both couples.
Director Eric Hafen, the Bickford Theatre’s producing artistic director, did yeoman-like work with DiPietro’s script. The four actors each found a main characteristic to their respective roles that helped the audience see the crumbling ground underlying the beginning-of-play humor. Rachel Matusewicz finds in daughter-in-law Jane the unsettling feeling that something may be vaguely wrong with her marriage, and retreats behind a deliberate lack of understanding and a façade of priggishness. Son Billy, played by Ben Kaufman, is a man who keeps repeating clichéd phrases in an attempt to justify his burgeoning affair not only to others but to himself as well. Harriett Trangucci’s Alice, who believes she can easily fix her son’s marital problems, is tripped up by memories of her own past.
Bob Mackasek gives an outstanding performance as Bill, Sr., flawlessly making the transition from early comedy to late gravity seem easy. The final 10 minutes of the play are the kind that makes you wonder why you’ve not heard of him before, and make you want to see him again.
Among the technical team, mention must be made of the scenic and lighting designs of Roman Klima, especially Bill Sr. and Alice’s living room, in which most of the play takes place.
With its mixture of humor and pathos, Clever Little Lies, while not the greatest comedy ever written, is worth seeing for the fine work of its cast. For that reason alone, one can find a decent evening of theatre by seeing the Bickford Theatre’s production of Clever Little Lies.
Clever Little Lies is presented by the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morristown through May 7. For the performance schedule, tickets, and other information, visit www.morrismuseum.org.