Clever Little Lies’ Explores Different Pursuits of Happiness

Clever Little Lies’ Explores Different Pursuits of Happiness

Clever Little Lies is described as “a comedy of sex, love and secrets” and it very much is. Joe DiPietro’s play opens with a father and son getting dressed after a tennis match at the gym. Talk about sports soon delves into talk about sex — more specifically, the sex the son is having with a personal trainer from the gym who is definitely not his wife. Said wife recently gave birth to their first child and is thus far unsuspecting that her husband has been cheating on her for seven months. Seems like a honking huge lie to me.

Frank discussion of physical intimacy, though never really shocking when it comes to theater, is quite the catalyst for conflict. Relationships are front and center of Clever Little Lies, as is happiness. There are arguments made to either seek happiness wherever you can get it or to find the happiness in what you already have. Happiness does not always mean sunshine and rainbows, though, and at times the comedy makes way for some harsh truths. To quote French poet Jean de La Fontaine, “Nothing weighs on us so heavily as a secret.” And it’s that weight that eventually causes people to crack. One person finds out, then another, and then another. And with each fracture comes one more secret… then another, and then another. The laughs keep coming, but fewer and farther between. There is such a thin line between comedy and tragedy and *that’s* what makes theater so entertaining. It’s both sad and beautiful watching someone or something fall apart right before your eyes.

In addition to the relatable plot, the show draws the audience in with quippy dialogue. There are so many great one-liners, but my absolute favorite was, “Twenty-three isn’t a person yet!” (Because it’s not.) And though the play is only 90 minutes long, I became attached to these characters thanks to the solid ensemble. As the son, Billy, George Merrick nails the role of the guy who wants to hang onto a life that is more about keeping himself happy now that his wife’s attention is mostly on the baby. Kate Wetherhead plays Billy’s wife, Jane, with such honesty. She’s got secrets, too, but hers are more selfless than her spouse’s. This makes her actions extra painful to witness, knowing she’s being cuckqueaned. (FYI: Derived from Middle English, “cuckquean” is the lady-version of “cuckold.” However, in modern English “cuckquean” refers to a specific sexual fetish. I was aiming for the Middle English translation. #themoreyouknow)

Then there are Billy’s parents. It was a privilege to see Marlo Thomas (Alice) and Greg Mullavey (Bill) on stage together. More seasoned than a spice rack, these two bickered like the pros they are; bringing an authentic feel of long-term companionship to their fictional couple. Their playfulness with each other is sweet and that makes it hurt that much more when one of the secrets revealed involves their past. You know how sometimes you want the ability to pause a play and give one or more of the characters a hug? I wanted to give Bill a hug. Or forty.

My biggest take away from this play is that just because someone is a grown-up, doesn’t mean that s/he always makes the most grown-up decisions. No one is morally sound 100% of the time, but there are people who are more selfless than selfish and vice versa. To find happiness, one needs to actively do something. And (even though I don’t agree with it at all) for some people, said happiness might be outside of their marriage. For me, happiness was at the Westside Theatre on W. 43rd St. Clever Little Lies may have sadness between the smiles, but I walked out of the theater feeling content having seen engaging theater.

Clever Little Lies runs thru January 3, 2016.

Photo (c) Matthew Murphy

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