In the theater, size really doesn’t matter. You can have the biggest, most lavish venue and a budget that Croesus would envy and still board a clunker (certain recent productions come to mind, but I shan’t mention them). Then you can have a tight budget and a playing space in which you aren’t sure you can safely swing a cat and still produce an engaging, delightful (and thoughtful) evening of theater that satisfies on multiple levels. Such is the case with Square One’s production of Joe DiPietro’s “Clever Little Lies,” directed by Tom Holehan. Nested in the Stratford Academy, this black box theater, if nothing else, points out how nuance and small gestures, easily seen and appreciated by an audience that is just feet away from the performers, allow actors to ply their craft without having to play to the back row.
The play is essentially a domestic comedy that is driven by infidelity, real or possibly imagined. It all begins when Bill, Sr. (Peter Wood) has just bested his son, Billy (Paulo Araujo) in a tennis game and they are cooling off and changing their clothes in the locker room. Bill senses that something is bothering his son, so he presses and Billy finally breaks down and says he is having an affair with Jasmine, a 20-year-old trainer at his gym. She is, despite the fact Billy is married to Jane (Josie Kulp) and they have a three-month-old daughter, the light of his life, especially when it comes to sex. Bill is, quietly, nonplussed, but he promises he will not mention any of this to Alice (the marvelous Peggy Nelson), Bill’s wife and Billy’s mother. Well, that doesn’t work out very well because in DiPietro’s world. women just know.
What follows is a delightful cat and mouse game that involves Billy and Jane being invited over by Alice for some cheese cake and talk about “this and that.” Here witty dialogue and some superb acting take over as the two couples deal with innuendo and, perhaps, an affair that Alice had decades ago.
One of the things that is so enjoyable about this production, as alluded to above, is that the actors can telegraph emotions, often quite humorously, without having to beat drums or prance and pander to the audience. Cases in point: Kulp expresses volumes just by widening her eyes, tensing her shoulders and pursing her lips; Wood uses silence and a thousand-yard stare to emphasize his confliction; Araujo seems to bulk-up as he tries to defend his affair (after all, Jasmine is a trainer) and Nelson, well, she just owns the stage as she confesses (is it a confession?) to an affair. I’d be happy to bring undergraduate drama students to this production just to have them take note of how Nelson uses her hands.
I’ve been bored, often yawning and contemplating sneaking out at intermission, while attending some recent “big theater” productions, but there was never a moment when I wanted to leave the confines of Square One. Holehan seems to have a knack for selecting plays that focus on the nature of intimacy, the little things that, in the end, mean so much. He also has the luxury of drawing on a talent pool (Araujo and Kulp are new to Square One) that is professionally outstanding.
Yes, Square One has, at times, stumbled a bit over its 29 years – what theater company hasn’t? Yet, since I’ve been attending the performances for over ten years, I have been consistently impressed by the quality of the acting and the sensitivity of the direction. This is a small theater with a big heart, and ”Clever Little Lies” will make you smile, at times guffaw, and as you’re driving home, make you think…and ponder the possibilities. You can’t ask more of theater than that.
“Clever Little Lies” runs through March 17. For tickets or more information call 203-375-8778 or go to www.squareonetheatre.com.