The End of the Affair

Skewering contemporary marriage
Edward A. Brennan and Carolann DiPirro star in “Clever Little Lies” at the Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue. Tom Kochie

Attention local theatergoers: For those thinking of seeing just one show this fall, look no further than “Clever Little Lies,” running now through Nov. 12 at the Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue. Joe DiPietro’s 2013 comedy-drama is an exploration of contemporary marriage, and, as directed by Andrew Botsford, this new production is both hilariously funny and laden with genuinely stinging dramatic barbs. 

Much of the humor comes from the familiarity of the characters, all of whom will be easily recognizable to Hamptons audiences. As the play opens, a father and a son, both lawyers, talk in the locker room of a health club where they have just finished a set of tennis. When Bill Sr. (played by Terrance Fiore) gently teases his son, Billy (Edward A. Brennan), about having beaten him, Billy admits to being distracted. His wife has just had a new baby, after all, and he is stressed at work. And, oh yes, he is having an affair with a 23-year-old personal trainer. 

The father is appalled and demands his son end the affair immediately, but Billy is sodden. “It’s like she has a window into my soul,” he argues without irony; Bill Sr.’s knowing glance reminds us the window she has to Billy is more likely some where south of his heart. 

Off we go then to John Cheever land, as Billy’s parents invite him and his wife to their comfortable suburban home for drinks in an effort to intercede in their marriage. Here we are introduced to Billy’s mother, Alice, a bookstore owner who laments popular fashion, declaring the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series unreadable. How does she know this, asks Bill Sr.? Because she’s read them all, Alice announces. 

Expertly played by Diana Marbury, Alice is a woman of wit and observation, relating how in her own store’s cafe patrons flip through trashy novels while sipping coffee from mugs adorned with pictures of Charles Dickens; they want the cachet of culture without the commitment. 

Cheesecake is served, alongside copious amounts of Scotch whiskey. Alice passes on dessert — “I’m saving my calories for alcohol,” she says — and the dialogue moves smoothly from the joys and sorrows of child rearing to those of marriage, though not without interruptions. The baby (on monitor from the bedroom, of course, for this most contemporary of couples) cries intermittently, while Billy’s cellphone keeps ringing — his baby-doll mistress won’t leave him alone.

There is a hilarious sequence when Alice grabs the cellphone from her son’s hand during one of these calls and then can’t shut it off — she’s as incompetent with technology as she is hostile to it. The expectation, of course, is that this is where the daughter will learn of the affair, and the bloodletting will begin. But Alice manages to finally turn it off, setting the stage for her long monologue on infidelity. She herself, Alice dramatically announces, had an affair years ago. 

One of the conceits of “Clever Little Lies” is that the audience doesn’t know whether Alice’s long recounting of her past affair is true, or just a fiction she has concocted to dissuade her son from continuing his dalliance. If the latter, then Bill Sr. is in on the game as well, looking wounded and swilling his Scotch on cue when Alice’s story grows erotic. 

That Bill Sr.’s reaction works both as truth and fiction within a fiction is a tribute to Terrance Fiore, whose work here is pitch perfect in every way. Mr. Fiore’s relaxed, grounding performance finds both the sharp sense of irony and the forgiving humanity in his character. He is the anchor for what is already a superlative cast, which includes Edward A. Brennan, who finds both the callowness and the heart in Billy, and Carolann DiPirro as his wife, Jane, impossibly likable even when her neurotic obsession with her newborn is revealed as her own brand of narcissism. 

Is the ending of “Clever Little Lies” a little tidy? Perhaps. Along the way, however, the dialogue in Joe DiPietro’s play is so sharp and funny, and the acting here so spot-on, that it hardly matters. This production is regional theater at its best, right down to Sean Marbury’s set design, which recreates a cozy contemporary home so familiar that many in the audience may think they are looking directly into their own living rooms. 

It is one more detail in what stands out as one of the most successful Suffolk County productions in recent memory.