The new comedy drama “Clever Little Lies” now at the B Street Theatre has an unsurprising familiarity. Playwright Joe DiPietro’s simple and straightforward four-person play comes from a modern theater strain of easygoing realism incorporating sitcomish laughs with some late tough love ballast. The West Coast premiere of the show, which had a brief off-Broadway run in the winter of 2015, seems poised to satisfy audiences.
The genre’s popularity lies in its comforting reliability, and the solid craftsman DiPietro builds an efficient machine. It’s the type of play B Street has built its decades-long success on, and much of that started with DiPietro. The theater produced the 1994 world premiere of DiPietro’s early work “The Virgin Weeps,” giving them a popular hit when they were desperate to find an audience. DiPietro has gone to significant commercial success with several works, including the perennial regional favorite “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” and won two 2010 Tony Awards for the book and lyrics of “Memphis.”
More familiarity comes with the cast, including Julia Brothers as a well-to-do WASPish upper class woman meddling in her adult son’s affairs. It’s actually just one affair Alice’s son Billy is having but she makes his naughty business a family spectacle. Brothers has been a B Street staple since the company’s earliest days and also understudied Alice in New York where Marlo Thomas starred in that production. Brothers makes Alice a wry, soulful force of nature who cannot be denied. It’s her dynamism that pushes the low-key narrative along.
The play opens as Billy, played by the fine Jason Kuykendall, hesitantly reveals to his dad Bill Sr. (Rich Hebert) that he’s having an affair with his hot young trainer. Hebert’s straight-laced, nonplussed dad doesn’t want to hear it even though Billy spills plenty of intimate details. Billy says he feels like a new, different and better man when seen through the eyes of his adoring lover. The experienced Hebert (“Billy Eliot” and several Music Circus roles) makes a fine comic foil with inventive, subtle facial reactions that tell their own, more melancholic story.
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Billy and wife Jane have just had their first child, and Billy feels barely an afterthought as Jane’s world revolves around their newborn. Though sworn to secrecy, Bill Sr. can’t keep Alice from learning something’s wrong as soon as he comes home. She charges into action and gets Jane on the phone. Much to the two men’s chagrin, the whole family will have dessert together and talk about “this and that.” As Jane, Tara Sissom does well with little to do. The play’s jokey first half gives way to a Dr. Phil-ish second half with revelations and reactions that aren’t entirely expected, although the ground doesn’t shift either.
Under Dave Pierini’s direction, the solid cast makes the most of obvious jokes and adds a needed tartness to the syrupy sentiment.
Clever Little Lies
What: B Street Theatre presents the West Coast premiere of Joe DiPietro’s Off-Broadway comedy “Clever Little Lies.” With Julia Brothers, Rich Hebert, Tara Sissom, and Jason Kuykendall. Dave Pierini directed.
When: Continues at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays through July 31.
Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Tickets: $26-$38, $8 Student Rush
Information: 916-443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.