BWW Interview: CLEVER LITTLE LIES Swirl Around Kate Wetherhead
CLEVER LITTLE LIES is a Neil Simon-ish dramedy that plays like a '60s sitcom.
Buttinski mother-in-law Alice (Marlo Thomas) drags her reluctant spouse Bill (Greg Mullavey) into the affairs of son Billy (George Merrick) and his wife Jane (Kate Wetherhead). They all live to regret it. A tidy domestic play it's not. Wetherhead views it as something more than a ho-hum story about infidelity.
"The events of the play are centered around infidelity but it's really a pathway play about intimacy, marriage and family," she said. "It's universal and so relevant." The playwright, Joe DiPietro "took a comedic approach to it and it does take a more dramatic turn. It's an interesting look at marriage and families and how they choose to protect each other," she said.
It opens in a locker room with Billy and his father after playing tennis. While they dress, Billy confesses to lusting for a 23-year-old personal trainer. He makes his father swear not to tell his mother.
You can figure out what happens.
Alice lures the young marrieds (who have a newborn) over to their beautifully appointed home for dinner using cheesecake as bait. The fragility of the marital bond is tested. Jane, sleep-deprived and baby obsessed, is guilty only of a new mother's love. She exudes naivety and innocence.
"The way the play is structured, I think the audience is on Jane's side before they meet her," Wetherhead said. "She's not a despicable character at all-just a tired new mom wanting to make things work. I have people on my side. Bill [Greg Mullavey] and I are devoted spouses, so that gives us a certain amount of support from the audience.
"George imbues his character with a relatable angst," she said. "He's very conflicted, very genuinely tortured. Alice and Bill have this long successful marriage with a lovely home, family and careers."
Thomas, who has retained her comedic timing and dramatic undertones, is a fierce mother-in-law. She loves her kids and just want them to be happy, Wetherhead said. Sometimes that backfires.
"It's been an interesting journey to not make her so naive," she said of her own character. "She's frustratingly nice, and the approach I take is that she's very much consumed by motherhood and sleep deprivation is playing a huge part of her life.
She fusses over Billy so much that she packs his socks in his gym bag. Except this one time. "It's her first baby so she's falling into familiar traps-she's overly concerned and lets everything she reads affect her choices," Wetherhead said. In her quest to be supermom, maybe she's let herself go a little bit. "She's not devoting as much time to her husband, but she's not clueless. She knows something's up. He's spending more time away from the house, she's not unaware of it," she said.
"He's getting angry and she acknowledges that. She's a problem solver and she's taking action to try and fix things."
Wetherhead, who wears extra padding beneath her schlumpy clothing, said the story works regardless of era. "What she's doing is surviving and trying to keep her marriage surviving. While she may be paying more attention to her daughter, she still loves her husband," said Wetherhead. "I don't think she's clueless." Infidelity has crossed her mind "but she's choosing not to pursue it further than she has to. Okay, something has happened, she doesn't know what it is. Maybe he's flirting with the idea of indiscretion and he's genuinely restless," she said. "She's making a choice not to know everything."
The message of the play is up for grabs, she said. "Honesty comes with a price. Being honest doesn't always lead to positive outcomes. If you're going to make choices that could potentially hurt someone, there will be consequences, she said. "Joe [DiPietro] has spoken about this and he sees infidelity as a cornerstone of comedy through the ages. Farce has been around forever and it could be very funny and interesting as a living room comedy that explores real life," Wetherhead said.
"I think these two people are ripe for some therapy. I think they're in a bit of a freefall in two different ways. With the introduction of this child in their lives she's become a little obsessive and wants to stay home. And there's hubby running as fast as he can to get away from it," said Wetherhead.
"I hope audiences are wondering what happens next," she said. "What's a good lie? What's a good secret?"
Clever Little Lies is playing at the Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd Street.