Clever Little Lies, by Joe DiPietro. Directed by Cathy Lee-Visscher.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
" The other is so seductive."
Meg Dooley, Erin Harwood; photo: Matt Sikora
In four scenes without an intermission, lasting one hour and twenty-one minutes, author Joe DiPietro takes an in-depth look at a troubled marriage, a marriage in turmoil and a marriage that has existed without trouble in spite of everything that has happened until the moment the play begins. It's a comedy and the four people on stage, under the direction of Cathy Lee-Visscher, at the Ghent Playhouse create a poignant and volatile world. This is a four year old play that premiered in New Jersey with Marlo Thomas playing the lead. Then it played in New York at the Westside Theater for about four months. Greg Mullavey co-starred. Though it was not a big hit, the play has more than just merit. It has appeal, and it has a message: mothers, when they need to, can sacrifice their own saftey-nets to protect their children.
The mother role, originated by Thomas, is undertaken here by Meg Dooley. Her husband, the Mullavey part, is played by Sky Vogel. Both are regularly seen in regional theaters and both are always welcome additions to a theater season.
Bill Senior has a good relationship with his adult son, Billy. He even likes Billy's wife Jane. The two men get extra-pally on this occasion and the son, played here by Jay Reum, confesses an indiscretion that has quite flummoxed him. Unable to keep anything from his wife, Alice, Bill Senior accidentally tips her off and she sets out to make things right.
Vogel brings just the right amount of male self-assurance to the role, tempering it with an equal amount of insecurity and weakness. In every scene he is just right in his movement, his pauses, his vocal stress and his loving nature. Vogel knows just when to be emotionally charged and when to hold back any sense of feeling. He does more than mere justice to the father part, he enriches it with humor, humanity and heart.
As the son Jay Reum pulls out all the stops, ranting, sucking it up, loving and caring and caring not to care, one emotion after another without pause. For an introductory appearance at the Ghent Playhouse it is a wonderful first shot and leaves hope for more appearances in the future.
His wife, Jane, is played by another relative newcomer to Ghent, Erin Harwood. Harwood has the most difficult role in the play, an unsympathetic role in spite of the circumstances surrounding her, some of which she is never aware of. By the end of the play we find ourselves liking this character and that is due, in no small measure, to the work done by the actress.
The hardest, showiest role is Alice, wife of Billy Senior, played by Meg Dooley. Alice is quixotic, curious, impulsive, intuitive and pushy. When she touts cheesecake, you eat cheesecake and if you don't eat cheesecake you leave yourself open for interrogation, water-boarding, and other forms of matronly torment and torture. Dooley is at her best in this role, and she becomes fully submerged into the character. In the long scene that finishes the play she is almost never out of sight and when she dissappears into the kitchen, or up to the baby's room, we let our eyes roam to those locales, hoping to find her and watch her again.
Joanne Maurer's costumes expertly define these characters and the living room and locker room sets by director Cathy Lee-Visscher deliver a very particular message about this family and its years of existence. Everything is comfortable though not elegant or special. Maxwell Lagonia has done very good lighting for this show, subtle changes assisting in supporting the moods established by the company on stage.
Lee-Visscher has not only moved her cast well through the complexity of the set, she has also moved them through the complexity of emotional changes demanded by the script. In a season defined, thus far, by the shallowness of parody, this play is a mood and mode changer, bringing us deeper and more thoughtful theater. It is, by the way, very funny and while you feel things you find you can also laugh out loud at them. In short, this is very good experience in the theater. Very good indeed.
Clever Little Lies plays at the Ghent Playhouse, 6 Town Hall Place, Ghent, NY through February 4 with extra matinees. For information and tickets go to www.ghentplayhouse.org.