nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
April 30, 2010
There are a number of elements that make White's Lies, Ben Andron's contrived and predictable "first venture into the legitimate theater," exactly like a multi-camera '90s sitcom.
Start with very quick scenes and snappy incidental muzak (sound design by Nathan Leigh). Add in the characters: a suave but boring, well-employed, lady-killing leading man; his nerdy best friend; the women of their respective dreams; and the entrance-applause garnering "oh my god she looks great for her age" guest star as the leading man's mother. Then there are the plot contrivances that could fill an entire TV season's worth of material.
Tuc Watkins, currently one-half of Wisteria Lane's gay couple on Desperate Housewives, stars as Joe White (the suave yet boring leading man), a compulsive liar lawyer with a penchant for women. He is prone to being found in his underwear every morning with yet another woman (Rena Strober as every woman he's ever slept with) by best friend and legal partner Alan (Peter Scolari), nerdy and TV-obsessed.
Enter Joe's mom, this week's guest star, played by the one-and-only Betty Buckley. They haven't spoken in a while, but she's here today to tell him that she has cancer, with only a few months to live. Her dying wish is for Joe to settle down and, if possible, give her a grandchild.
So what does Joe do? He concocts a very convenient lie, using Michelle (Christy Carlson Romano), the 25-year-old daughter of ex-college flame Barbara (Andrea Grano), who has asked him to handle her divorce. Naturally, Joe and Michelle, now playing father and daughter, fall for one another.
And that's just Act One.
The cast does a very fine job of making this script work, and they're all quite charming, especially Romano. Buckley towers over all of them and delivers a master class in making a lot out of a little. Scolari delivers a competent, funny performance (perhaps the most genuinely funny performance in the production), and he, Watkins (who is very bland), and Grano have great chemistry. Strober, as every nameless woman, and Jimmy Ray Bennett, as Joe's assistant/bartender (at a bar with an identity crisis), have to create distinct personalities for every character they play, and they do it with great flair.
The large, looming set (designed by Robert Andrew Kovach) feels like a soundstage. The costumes (Michael Bevins) are suitable, as is the lighting (Solomon Weisbard).
If you're a classic TV fan like Alan, White's Lies is probably the show for you. It's a great sitcom, something that would fit with the likes of ABC's old TGIF or FOX's Sunday lineup. However, it's not a good play. The staging is clever (it is directed by Bob Cline, who treats the piece like a farce), there are a few decent laughs, and the last 20 minutes where all is revealed are quite clever. But, you can see the ending coming from the first few lines. It's just too contrived and unbelievable.