Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured (l-r): Andrew Garcia, Alyssa Ratkovich, Lawrence Garner, and Kathleen Burke. Photo by DavDGreat Photography.
By Bec Willett
Joe DiPietro’s CLEVER LITTLE LIES is a fiercely-written farce about marriage, infidelity and aging in the 21st century. As with most successful comedies, it may be dressed in the jewels of pace and wit but its strength is in its humanity. “Happy is overrated,” Bill Senior tells his disbelieving son. But for Bill Junior, happiness is the mirage of a greener pasture beyond his middle-class life with wife Jane, baby Emily, and a successful career as a lawyer. He may be the protagonist, but it’s hard to feel sorry for him – which, as Bluebird Arts’ production highlights, is exactly the point.
Caroline Grebner’s scenic design perfectly illustrates the trappings that can blind us into a life of entitlement — where we deserve everything without giving much at all. There is a choreographed warmth to the tasteful palette and crisp lines of Bill Senior and Alice’s living room as though they have paid someone to create and keep the warmth of their personal touch just so. As the play progresses, it’s clear that the lies in this room have been as calculated as its furnishings. Personal desire and dissatisfaction have, until now, often won out over consequence.
“Marriage is relentless” is another gem of brutal honesty from Bill Senior. In contrast to the polished façade presented by their surroundings, the reality is that these two marriages are as complicated and messy as anyone’s. We are made privy to this in a scene in the car where Emily is crying in the back seat and Jane is climbing back and forth to soothe her. As husband and wife spar and navigate traffic, Andrew Garcia owns every bit of Billy Junior’s entitlement and arrogance. Juxtaposed with Alyssa Ratkovich’s frazzled and guileless Jane, it’s easy to see why happiness and connection seem so far away. Deftly working with the text, lighting designer Michael Rathbun has further strengthened this scene by creating a structure of farcical pace through the simulation of oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, the pacing is far more labored and less nuanced in the older couple’s performances, tempering the sharpness of the truth and humor inherent in the text.
Bluebird Arts’ production of CLEVER LITTLE LIES might not always find the necessary pacing, but the message is clear: happiness is often not found in that which is the easiest.
CLEVER LITTLE LIES plays through December 16th at the Athenaeum. For more information visit bluebirdarts.org.