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The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Clever Little Lies Review: A Marriage Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Furman Theatre provides an intimate look at the dangerous power of escapism.
Brian Ground

I have gone to quite a few Furman theatrical productions this year, but I still find myself getting surprised by the level of care and creativity found in the works of Furman students. Such was the case when I went to see the Furman Theatre company’s production of “Clever Little Lies” by Joe DiPietro last week.

The play is centered around four characters over the course of one night: Billy, his wife Jane, and his parents Bill Sr. and Alice. At the beginning of the play, Bill Sr. finds out that Billy has been having an affair with a younger woman, and it is up to him and Billy to keep the matter hidden from their wives long enough for Billy to call off the affair. Unfortunately for them, a few clever little lies lead to much more trouble than they thought.

The story was very engaging, and it was fun to watch conversations unfold as the characters kept getting closer to the truth. Both wives hilariously and entertainingly vent about their daily tribulations, oblivious to their husbands’ desperate attempts at a coverup. As the play goes on however, they both start to grow suspicious that something is going on. It adds a lot of well-earned tension to the scenes and makes this a very tense play overall. As I was watching this, I was unsure if a scene would end with a humorous transition to the next conversation or one of the character’s secrets being exposed. Still, there were comedy and gags throughout to help lighten the tone and keep the story from getting absurdly dramatic.

The characters were well-written and approachable for the audience, and the back and forth between them was enhanced by all the actor’s performances. It is hard to pick a standout because everyone was so great, but I would have to give an extra round of applause for the actors who played Billy’s parents. Both of them were funny and injected a lot of heart and energy into their scenes, while maintaining the more serious undertones of the story.

Billy’s mother, Alice, was extremely nosy and curious about her son’s married life, but Emily Lackey did a good job of not letting this come across as annoying or meddlesome, and she even got to deliver some of the funniest lines of the entire show. I do have to deduct a few points though since at one point Alice went on a rant against graphic novels and why they were inferior to “real books.” Graphic novels are an art form, and I will not abide by any senseless slander that says otherwise.

Billy’s dad was a romp as well, and his character was made even better by the acting of Jason Roberts. It was hilariously relatable to watch him struggle to put on a calm and carefree visage so as to not let Alice or Jane suspect what he knows, only to fail repeatedly as his wife continues to piece together what is going on. It was all too obvious that Bill Sr. was in over his head, and you couldn’t help but feel for the guy who was just trying to keep his family together when his son loses sight of what is important.

 Billy and Jane were also enjoyable. They both had great chemistry together, even though they are at odds with each other for a good bit of the play. This chemistry is exemplified in one scene early on when Billy and Jane are driving to meet Billy’s parents and inadvertently wind up singing along to a pop song over the radio because it makes their daughter smile. It’s a simple and maybe even silly scene, but it gave a lot of heart to the characters and made you want to root for them.

It was very easy to grow attached to Jane, as she was dealing with a lot of things in this story: adjusting to motherhood, navigating a rough patch with her husband, and even questioning her career path after just having a baby. Annie Dykstra helped to bring these emotions to life and presented the audience with a relatable person dealing with a lot on their plate, which made it harder to watch since at any moment she could have the brutal bombshell of her husband’s affair dropped on her.

Matthew Sides similarly played the character of Billy well and gave him a sense of wit and no-nonsense impatience that I thought rounded out the character a lot. There was even a little bit of excited, dorky energy that occasionally poked through Billy’s temper and slippery lies which helped to make him a more endearing character. 

Despite the efforts of Sides however, I would have to admit that Billy is a bit of a weak link among the characters. I think this stems from the way that Billy is written. The story tried repeatedly to establish Billy as someone who is incredibly dissatisfied with the way they see their life heading, and because of this he was very short-fused and erupted into fits of anger or distress at a moment’s notice. Billy raised his voice or screamed out of anger at least once in almost every scene, and the more he kept losing his cool, the less believable it became for the audience. The explosive reactions that he kept having to things Jane and Bill Sr. said got harder to justify as the story progressed, and it made it hard to grow attached to Billy. It would have been a lot more effective if they had used Billy’s temper more sparingly, and perhaps maybe have gone to some other wells to demonstrate that he was unhappy and dealing with emotions he did not know how to handle. 

I am also not sure how I feel about the end of the play now that I’ve had time to reflect on it. Without going into spoilers, there is a twist that shakes up the plot considerably. The twist is by no means bad because it helps to naturally lead into the resolution of the story and even exposes some new dimensions to the characters through the ways they react to the twist. The issue is that when the reveal was first made, I didn’t know if what I had just heard was serious or just part of some sort of joke. The twist is revealed at the peak of a very tense moment, and by a character who I feel was established to be the one most likely to blurt out an out-of-left-field lie in the spur of the moment when under a lot of pressure. Because of that, I thought that this big admission of guilt made by one of the characters was just a lie that they had cornered themselves into. It wasn’t until the last couple minutes that I realized that the twist was actually real and meant to be taken seriously, and that confusion took me out of the final act a little bit.

Other than those things , I had a lot of fun with this production, even if I am still a little mad about how they insulted graphic novels. There was so much energy and ambition packed into every little bit of the set. You could feel this passion in everything from pivotal scenes, like when Jane almost answered a phone call from Billy’s lover, to the finer details, like when Billy and Jane are driving to meet his parents and “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles came over the fake radio. That’s when I knew there were some fine people working behind the scenes. I was very glad I got the chance to see this live and am eager to find out what the cast and crew have up their sleeves next!

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