Those who have seen Joe DiPietro’s plays—and Florida Studio Theatre fans certainly have over the years—will probably know what to expect from his latest, Clever Little Lies, now onstage at FST’s Keating Theatre.
That is to say, the action will probably involve a pretty recognizable family in a pretty comfortable setting, the dialogue will offer up some pretty predictable but nevertheless surefire comedy lines, and at least some members of the cast will be pretty, too. It’s a formula that certainly works for DiPietro, whose Over the River and Through the Woods, Memphis and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change have made him something of a household name for theatergoers in a way that, as others have noted, may make him today’s Neil Simon.
Here the story begins to unfold in a locker room, where handsome Billy (Christopher M. Smith) and his father, Bill Sr. (Jon Shaver) are conversing after a tennis match. There’s something on Billy’s mind, and sorta kinda accidentally he spills it to his father: He’s been having an affair with a younger instructor at his gym, even though he’s got a wife and new baby at home.
Bill Sr. is shocked, but promises he’ll keep it secret even as he urges Billy to end things. But secrets in a play exist to be revealed, and besides, as Bill admits, his wife, Billy’s mother, “has a way of extracting information” from him.
Sure enough, when Bill gets home wife Alice (Rita Rehn) cottons on quickly that something is up, and since parents are supposed to help their children, she insists on inviting Billy and wife Jane (Allyson Jean Malandra) over to discuss things. At first the notion of infidelity—so hurtful in real life—is played for comedy here. But Clever Little Lies takes a turn when Alice begins to tell a story with a moral of sorts—one that may or may not be true, but is bound to have some serious effects on not just one marriage, but two.
Under the direction of Kate Alexander, the approximately 80-minute play (no intermission) whizzes by and garners the intended laughs. The cast may occasionally be trying too hard, or maybe it’s just that the responses that the playwright plans for them are not always that believable. Rehn and Shaver play nicely together; I especially like watching Shaver’s speechless, shifting reactions every time Rehn surprises him with something. Between Smith and Malandra there feels less chemistry, and Malandra comes across as more of an ingénue than one would think her character should be at this point in her life.
By play’s end, DiPietro has allowed some more genuine emotion to peep through, but the question remains as to whether what precedes that moment will affect the audience in any way other than entertaining them. For some, that will be enough.
Clever Little Lies continues through March 4; for tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.