Clever lit­tle do­mes­tic com­edy

Play­wright el­e­vates stock plot above cliché

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE - kevin.prokosh@freep­ress.mb.ca KEVIN PROKOSH

TO tell you the truth, Clever Lit­tle Lies, the con­tem­po­rary com­edy that closes the Royal Man­i­toba Theatre Cen­tre sea­son, is guilty of be­ing art­fully de­cep­tive.

Joe DiPi­etro’s stealthy script ap­pears to be an­other gag­wor­thy tale about a poster boy for rich peo­ple’s prob­lems. Billy is a hand­some, wellto-do lawyer with a beau­ti­ful wife, Jane, a new baby girl and an even newer Mercedes con­vert­ible. By any con­tem­po­rary mea­sure, he’s a win­ner, but it doesn’t take long af­ter meet­ing him to round out a de­scrip­tion with “liar,” “cheat” and “fool­ishly blind jerk,” for not see­ing he al­ready has it all.

And Billy is not too smart, ei­ther. As Clever Lit­tle Lies opens, he is chang­ing in a posh locker room af­ter a ten­nis match with his dad, Bill Sr. Sud­denly he breaks down sob­bing, not be­cause of his rare loss on the court, but be­cause he is car­ry­ing on an af­fair with a gor­geous 23-year-old per­sonal trainer named Jas­mine.

What man spills the beans about mar­i­tal in­dis­cre­tions to his fa­ther? Af­ter go­ing into far too many de­tails about his wildly im­proved sex life, Billy re­verts to bad lit­tle boy, plead­ing, “Don’t tell mom.”

Of course, Mom/Alice, the he­li­copter mother armed with unerring parental ESP, has no trou­ble pry­ing the dirt out of Bill, who is shock­ingly lame at keep­ing the locker-room se­cret. Alice im­me­di­ately wants to in­ter­vene to save her son’s mar­riage by ask­ing Billy and Jane to their chic home for cheese­cake and moth­erly med­dling.

The 85-minute, in­ter­mis­sion­less talker in­cludes a rarely seen on­stage car ride. Billy wheels out in his full-size black Mercedes with Deco Daw­son’s video per­fectly synched on a rear screen to show the trip from one tony neigh­bour­hood to an­other. That Jane is lit­er­ally tak­ing a back seat to her hus­band is no ac­ci­dent.

Direc­tor Steven Schip­per also keeps to the speed limit, al­low­ing a smooth ride to a worth­while des­ti­na­tion.

It’s at this point that a RMTC pa­tron might ex­pect DiPi­etro, the win­ner of three Tony Awards, to play out a pleas­ant do­mes­tic com­edy that skims the sur­face of mar­i­tal in­fi­delity to earn some laughs be­fore re­stat­ing mid­dle­class val­ues by hav­ing the par­ents tell the younger cou­ple how to live their lives. The Amer­i­can play­wright has filled the stage with stock char­ac­ters: the stressed-out phi­lan­derer ready to dis­pose of his mar­riage; his sleep­de­prived, baby-ob­sessed wife; the dom­i­neer­ing but well-mean­ing mother; and the clue­less fa­ther.

This is where DiPi­etro, through the re­source­ful Alice, digs deeper into what a mother will do for love, and the love of her fam­ily.

“This is what par­ents do; they help their chil­dren,” says Alice. “That’s why we have them, to help them.” She is will­ing to risk what’s most im­por­tant in her life for the sake of what she con­sid­ers of even greater value — the well-be­ing of her son, daugh­ter-in-law and grand­daugh­ter.

Alice launches into a re­veal­ing story — or is it a para­ble? — de­vised to teach a les­son and pass on wis­dom. Is it one of those clever lit­tle lies of the ti­tles? DiPi­etro keeps the au­di­ence guess­ing and con­tem­plat­ing whether truth is more painful than lit­tle white lies. Is de­cep­tion es­sen­tial to a happy mar­riage? That de­bate will carry on among au­di­ence mem­bers long af­ter the cur­tain falls.

It’s been a while since Toronto ac­tor Maria Ri­cossa has graced the RMTC stage, and she re­turns in top form as Alice, the mother who knows best. Ri­cossa en­gages, whether she par­tic­i­pates in fam­ily drama or earns laughs for her aria about be­ing a book­store owner at a time when no one reads Charles Dick­ens or F. Scott Fitzger­ald, but in­stead buys cof­fee mugs, T-shirts and un­der­wear sport­ing the au­thors’ faces.

Eric Blais can do lit­tle to lift rest­less Billy from be­ing a cliché — the un­apolo­getic cad who cheats on his preg­nant wife be­cause it’s not the life he en­vi­sioned for him­self. Daria Put­taert earns more em­pa­thy as ne­glected Jane, but DiPi­etro pro­vides lit­tle room for added tex­ture or shad­ing. Both Win­nipeg­gers are con­vinc­ing and real, how­ever.

Ri­cossa’s hus­band, John Bour­geois, rounds out the cast as Bill Sr., who doesn’t do well with se­crets. His best mo­ment takes place early, when he cau­tions his son about the phys­i­cal in­dig­ni­ties of grow­ing old. He also pro­vides an af­fect­ing part­ing vi­sion of a man deeply un­sure about the clev­er­ness of the lit­tle lies he’s been told.

BORIS MINKEVICH/WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

From left, Maria Ri­cossa as Alice, Daria Put­taert as Jane, John Bour­geois

as Bill Sr. and Eric Blais as Billy in Clever Lit­tle LIes.

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