Seeing beauty in the mundane is an endeavor often missed by those with hurried lives and heavy responsibilities. While Billy in Clever Little Lies is struggling to see the beauty in his life, the talent in Circle Theatre’s production of the recently closed off-Broadway play is easy to see.
The regional premiere at Circle Theatre opened on the tails of the final show in New York on January 24. During its off-Broadway run, starring Marlo Thomas in the role of Alice, the play enjoyed favorable reviews in part because of the talent behind the script, Joe DiPietro. The play, which is set in modern day, provides a glimpse into the life of four people – a mother and father (Bill and Alice), their son, Billy, and his wife, Jane. The play opens in a locker room with father and son having a conversation following a tennis match, where the younger Bill reveals a secret despite being warned by the elder Bill “your mom has a way of extracting information from me.” As can be predicted, the secret isn’t protected for long and during an evening of cheesecake and drinks, the two couples learn more about each other than they had planned. The script is funny, yet thought-provoking. The expert writing was complemented well by the strong talent and crew during the opening night performance.
There were three locations for all of the action, the locker room, a car, and Bill and Alice’s living room. The clever little set design, by Clare Floyd DeVries, consisted of multi-use furniture and a very nicely designed wall that began as a wall of lockers then neatly changed into the back wall of the living room with a set of hinged pieces that folded to hide the lockers. Furniture was used in multiple ways to represent the interior of an automobile, the benches in a locker room, and a coffee table and seating in the living room. This quick-changing set was helpful to keeping the pace by refraining from lengthy set changes while providing a realistic backdrop to the events being portrayed.
The cast consisted of only four actors, two men and two women. The quartet meshed smoothly with each other and their professionalism made the opening night performance seem easy and well-rehearsed.
In the role of Alice, Linda Leonard convincingly paraded across the stage, orchestrating each interaction as a conductor at a symphony. With an always-appropriate attitude, highlighted with raised eyebrows and sidelong glances, Leonard’s portrayal counted nearly as much on her body language as the delivery of lines. Her performance was solid and convincing.
The younger wife, Jane, was played by Kelsey Milbourn. I have seen Milbourn in even lighter fare, and it was a delight to see her in a role that showcased a portion of the range of her talents. The choices made by Milbourn delivered a strong and complex characterization. With slightly disheveled hair and long sweater, Milbourn appeared as a woman who is beautiful but does not have the time to tend to that beauty because of a new baby and an often-absent husband. Milbourn’s facial expressions were pleasant and apprehensive at the same time, which was exactly what the script demanded.
Jake Buchanan’s portrayal of Billy encouraged me to dislike Billy and be hopeful for his future at the same time. A cocky gait about the stage and self-assured demeanor solidified the strength of this performance. Buchanan and the Bill Jenkins, playing the elder Bill, Sr., had a remarkable familiarity on stage – the relationship on stage appeared as a natural father and son relationship. The ease and comfort with which they bantered with each other was a tribute to the superb casting and direction of director, Steven Pounders.
My favorite performance of the evening, as a whole, was that of Jenkins. The character bears the weight of the entire secret. Jenkins delivered an astounding performance that was marked by impeccable timing when delivering the lines sure to evoke a chuckle from the audience. He also utilized the most telling of facial expressions, whether in response to a surprise or a revelation. The strength of Jenkins in the role of the patriarch resulted in the entire group operating as if a well-oiled machine.
The script is delightful, the performances spot on, and the crew exceptional in Circle Theatre’s exploration of a modern-day comedy. Clever Little Lies is a cleverly executed dive into love and marriage with a message that left me with something to think about.
The action runs for 90 minutes with no intermission. There is some strong language and adult situations.
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN