I have to admit that I went into the Hampton Theatre Company’s new production of “Clever Little Lies” in no mood for cynicism about love, marriage and commitment. There’s enough of that in this world. But I left the theater brimming with hope after witnessing this tight, tender and very funny production.
There’s no clutter in this story by playwright Joe DiPietro (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” “Memphis, “Over the River and Through the Woods”).
Brash young lawyer Billy confesses to his father, Bill Sr., in the locker room at their tennis club that he’s having an affair with his personal trainer while his wife, Jane, is busy doting over their new baby. He begs Bill Sr. to keep his secret, but there’s no keeping secrets from his mother, Alice, who intuits something must be wrong and calls everyone together for a family powwow over cheesecake and whiskey.
And that’s it. Four characters. One evening. And a lifetime’s worth of clever little lies in a family’s living room.
It seems fitting that this play should return to the South Fork — its first test run was at Guild Hall in East Hampton in the summer of 2014, before an off-Broadway run at the Westside Theater in 2015 and 2016. Both productions featured Marlo Thomas as Alice.
It’s just the kind of story that you could imagine taking place against the backdrop of the decadence of the Hamptons.
That’s not to say there’s anything shallow about these characters. Their yearnings and their fears are intimately relatable, and director Andrew Botsford has guided his actors’ attention to the finer details of the heart. The funny parts are the parts that we all recognize from our own lives.
“The pursuit of happiness – that’s the problem,” Bill Sr. tells his son upon hearing the revelation of his affair. “They put that in the Declaration of Independence and it’s been screwing up this country ever since. We’ve been promised happiness so we chase it like it’s a given. Like it’s actually possible! Like you can have it all the time!”
Terrance Fiore as Bill Sr. is a standout in this terrific cast. It helps that he’s written as the most sympathetic character here. This veteran of the HTC stage, whom you might have seen in “Other People’s Money” in 2013 or “One Flew Over The Cukoo’s Nest” in 2010, plays his role with a perfect degree of understatement and a quiet anger at injustice that many men will find intimately relatable.
Diana Marbury, who’s on a run of great performances in motherly roles at HTC, is sly and wry as his wife, Alice, who is full of surprises.
You can feel the pumped-up athletic tension brought to the role of Billy by Edward Brennan, who most recently played Inspector Goole in HTC’s 2015 production of “An Inspector Calls.” His heart wants what it wants, until he realizes that his heart is an unreliable narrator of his life’s story.
Carolann DiPirro gives her character, Jane, a new mother’s self-righteous fervor, which melts midway through into the tender embrace of a loving wife. It happens so gently and slowly that you might not be prepared to realize that she is a lovely woman, beneath her militant protection of her baby.
There’s a lot that’s like that in this play.
“Here’s how life works, Billy,” Bill Sr. tells his son after his excoriation of the Declaration of Independence’s ode to the pursuit of happiness. “You do what you do and you live and you love and some of it’s good and some of it’s terrible and no matter what hand you’re dealt, you find the happy in that.”
You will find the happy in this play.
Before this season opened, the theater received a grant from Suffolk County to install a new sound system in their performance space in the Quogue Community Hall, and it is truly phenomenal.
When a cell phone rang on stage, audience members searched their own pockets. When Billy and Jane’s baby cried from a hidden on-stage room, the mother in me was tugged to go see why she was crying. And you could hear every detail in the music during set changes.
The sound improvements are a great enhancement to an already quite fine production department, which hits the stagecraft out of the park again on this one, down to the shell of an onstage Volvo that provides the central scene.
“Clever Little Lies” runs at the Quogue Community Hall from October 26 to November 12 with shows on Thursdays and Fridays at 7, Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 2:30, with an additional matinee at 2:30 p.m. on November 11.
The Quogue Club at the Hallock House are offering a lunch and theater package for the additional matinee.
Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors 65 and up (excluding Saturday evenings), $20 for young adults under 35, $10 for students under 21 and $20 for theater industry members and veterans.
To purchase tickets, visit www.hamptontheatre.org, or call OvationTix at 1.866.811.4111.