Bill Jr. (Jim Stanek), a 30-something lawyer is married and the father of a recently born baby girl, but that hasn’t stopped him from having a hot and heavy affair with Jasmine (unseen), the gorgeous (so he says) personal trainer at the gym that he attends. Why in the world he shares his apparently ongoing infidelity with his stunned middle-aged father, Bill Sr. (Greg Mullavey), in the locker room of the tennis club where they have just finished their game is anyone’s guess.
Are we surprised that the younger Bill’s disclosure is meant to kick start the plot, or rather the situation, in Joe DiPietro’s not-as-clever-as-it-needs-to-be little comedy? It may be a fumbled admission by Bill Jr., but it becomes a feeble excuse for yet another disclosure to follow during one unsettling night with the in-laws. It is kind of funny to see how the comically nonplussed, close-to-speechless Bill Sr. isn’t able to keep the secret very long from his inquisitive wife Alice (Marlo Thomas) who quickly discerns from very little that a lot is up and at stake. We are not at all surprised that Alice is much cleverer than anyone. . . or is she?
Alice, the proprietor of a small bookstore where “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the current best seller, certainly won’t have to work hard to sell copies of the best selling erotic romance, but she has to work hard and quickly to figure out a way to not only put an end to her son’s potentially unforgivable indiscretion but also to save his marriage to Jane. Jane is a rather clueless and colorless woman who has decided to permanently give up her job as an editor of medical journals and be a stay-at-home wife and mother. How retro can she be?
Thomas, who won George Street audiences’ affection in two previous plays here, will undoubtedly continue to please those who attend despite the underlying shallowness of a play in need of a really clever twist, and not the lame one that finally arrives. As you might expect from the actress who’s best known for producing and starring in TV’s first comedy series about a single independent woman, “That Girl,” dominates the play and is funnily in command of all the silly banter and diverting subterfuges. . . except when her plan backfires. Thomas holds forth with disarming charm, artful glibness, and a flair for motor-mouthed repartee that speaks well for her as it does for the assertively amusing character devised by DiPietro. She also looks like a million in the outfits by Esther Arroyo.
DiPietro needn’t worry that this insignificant little comedy, under the admirably enthusiastic direction of David Saint, is going to do any serious harm to a reputation earned for writing the text for such praised musicals as “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Memphis,” “The Toxic Avenger,” as well as for the international hit “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”
Broadway veteran Mullavey knows the art of getting laughs by doing less. The audience responds with even greater empathy to him as his character is challenged by a sudden and unexpected disclosure. It isn’t easy to empathize with Stanek, who is making his George Street debut, as the self-centered, reckless, and restless Bill Jr. But this otherwise personable actor runs like a good sport with what is handed to him.
Kate Wetherhead brings a nicely quirky quality to her role as the neglected Jane. Although I missed seeing her during her run in the acclaimed off-Broadway production of “The Other Josh Cohen,” I look forward to her recreating her role at the Paper Mill Playhouse later this season.
Audiences can look forward to having a few laughs watching “Clever Little Lies,” but they will be hard pressed to find anything really diverting in what happens — except for the handsome living room setting designed by Yoshi Tanokura that glides smoothly into view following a short visit to locker room and a subsequent spin with Bill Jr. and Jane in their spiffy red convertible.
Clever Little Lies, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Playhouse, New Brunswick. Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m. Through Sunday, December 22. $38-$67. 732-246-7717 or www.georgestreetplayhouse.org.