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A CurtainUp Review
By Michael Walek
Joe White (Tuc Watkins) is the ultimate romantic comedy cliche— a successful, casually misogynistic playboy, complete with a nerdy sidekick (the proficient Peter Scolari). He is a divorce lawyer who always brings his conquests back to his office. Why he does, is never really explained, but it sure makes a convenient plot device.
The play opens with Joe entangled with a beautiful redhead. She tells him to call her, but of course Joe will be on to a new beautiful redhead seconds later. Literally seconds. You would think the sexual romp would stop when Jacks mother (Betty Buckley) announces she has terminal cancer, but no one bats an eye. This tragic news doesn’t seem to bother either Joe or his mother. In fact, no emotion from love to illness is serious in this comedy.
Mrs. White’s biggest regret is that Joe didn't settle down with a good woman and give her grandchildren. This admission kick starts the increasingly convolute plot. An ex-college flame (an over the top Andrea Grano) happens to stop by to get a divorce and she happens to have a young daughter (Christy Carlson Romano) who happened to be conceived the week after she and Joe broke up. Naturally, Joe convinces them to pretend Joe is this girl’s long lost father to ease his mother in her dying days. They resist — well sort of, in that romantic comedy way— and off we go.
The problem isn’t so much the plot. All farces and romantic comedies have predictable plots in which the fun stems from seeing what we know is going to happen, happen. The problem in White Lies is the cheesy execution.
The creative team seems to be in a 90s time warp from the ridiculously dated videos that play between scenes (Ooh a latte and cool club with a fog machine!) to the sound design that makes you feel trapped in an elevator. The whole look resembles those slick and impersonal chain hotels in midtown. Not the best thing to help reveal character or move a story along.
The actors are all good looking with plenty of time to take off their clothes and reveal impressive bodies and bleached smiles, but none of them has the comic gift to turn this play around. Tuc Watkins plays the Lothario well, but isn’t a physical comedian.
Exactly why cabaret and musical theater diva Betty Buckley is in this, is anyone’s guess. The part is thankless, without a funny or subtle line of dialogue. I dare anyone not to know her secret after the first ten minutes. Jimmy Ray Bennet and Rena Strober, not only do the most but the best work. They rise to the challenge of portraying a handful of characters. Except for one incredibly racist caricature of a Japanese delivery girl by Ms. Strober, the double casting provides director Bob Cline to develop some good bits of buiness.
The show overall tries to transform too many familiar jokes and stereotypes into something new and slick. The result seems more like a pilot for a sitcom then a play. To be fair, this didn't bother everyone at the performance I attended, many of whom seemed to be having a great time. But White Lies is unlikely to do as well as the erstwhile Broadway shows, The 39 Steps and Avenue Q currently in the same complex. There is one memorable Betty Buckley moment when she begins to sing, but stops when her son reminds her that she has a terrible voice. If only Ms. Buckley did have a chance to sing instead of being relegated to familiar joke telling.