Arriving early to The Westside Theater's opening night of Joe DiPietro's Clever Little Lies, Ali Wentworth and Peggy Siegal posed in front of the play's poster, mimicking the star Marlo Thomas poised with shhh finger over her mouth. This is a play with secrets, and Hoda Kotb was giggling nearby, but the big laughs for Clever Little Lies would come shortly. With all the seats filled, we could hear Tony Danza laughing loudest.
When we meet her in the nicely decorated living room of a suburban home, Marlo Thomas' character Alice grouses about adorning the windows of her bookstore with copies of the sexually charged 50 Shades of Gray. By contrast, Alice's family, including husband Bill (Greg Mullavey), son Billy (George Merrick), and daughter-in-law Jane (Kate Wetherhead) have other volatile issues. The word "infidelity" resonates, and compared with the sex in last year's best-selling book, the extra-marital sort seems genteel indeed. Son Billy has delusions of real love-- with a gym trainer named Jasmine--and plans to take off with her to Hawaii. Mom saves the day by coming clean about her own past, and dad, well, Bill Sr. notes ruefully, "Someone always gets hurt."
Marlo Thomas, with comic timing in her DNA, deploys hilarious split-second grimaces and many eye rolls under David Saint's expert direction; Alice fusses busily, making cocktails, serving cheesecake. The next iteration of That Girl and daughter of Danny Thomas, Thomas teaches a life-changing lesson in the memoir, Growing Up Laughing: if you want to laugh, hang out with funny people: Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Jerry and Ben Stiller are all in the book, and Joy Behar, who was among the many friends attending the play on opening night.
Bea Restaurant & Bar next door, chockablock with well-wishers, has an alcove in back behind a gauzy curtain. There, Zac Posen, Steve Guttenberg, Diane Sawyer, Diane Von Furstenberg, Barry Diller, Jeannie Berlin, and Nancy Armstrong waited for Marlo Thomas to arrive. Armstrong, a producer on the PBS Makers series spoke about traveling with Thomas for the program. As That Girl, Thomas was emblematic of changes in women's lives, and she would draw the biggest crowds. Michael Moore dropped in, the funny man of documentary fame, he knows how to find the serious in hilarious: "It's bittersweet at the end."
Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas' husband, stood by. Thomas's brother Tony, an entertainer now retired, thought the play might go to Broadway. "We're a showbiz family," he noted, and "I just want what's best for Marlo." The playwright's longtime friend Scott Wechsler said, 'this is funny. What a surprise. Joe's not so funny in person.' When told a lot of married couples may doubt each other after seeing his play, Joe DiPietro laughed, "Yeah, there are going to be some interesting car rides home."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.