J.B. Miller's new play White Lies got a very fine production by The Open Door Theatre at the Chelsea Playhouse. The Open Door Theatre, whose Blur (seen earlier in the season) seemed pushed and offensive, here offered a much more grounded production, marking a vast improvement from their other effort. At once scathing, mysterious, and sometimes intriguing, with White Lies Open Door offered an evening of theatre that was respectable in its acting, writing, and directing.
White Lies begins with a good dramatic premise. Merritt Tate (David Burke) is running for Senate and has just been accused by his 16-year-old daughter Lucy (Valerie Stodghill) of molestation. Avery Hill (Caroline Strong) is Lucy's court-appointed psychoanalyst, who is investigating the case. As the investigation progresses, Merritt slowly wonders if the accusations are really true and believes the lies that his daughter is telling Hill, which include murder and Satan-worship.
The play has moments of true intrigue. The character of Merritt, although somewhat stereotypical, is multi-layered. Merritt at first seems to be all mannerisms - he after all is a walking campaign for himself. But as the lies pile up and he starts to believe them, he becomes more and more pathetic, and the effect overall is sad. When lied to by detective Paul Karrow (Michael Ornstein) about an instance that his daughter hasn't actually confessed to, Merritt believes that as well. Karrow then says he made it up.
The play is strongly focused on Hill's having to put in a report about the case. The mystery behind Hill's own motivations are the most powerful aspect of the play. Never are her motivations clearly spelled out by Miller, which adds a mysterious quality to the proceedings.
The play falters, however, in the character of Lucy. Although her motivations are not spelled out initially, her turn from malevolence to misunderstood, attention-grabbing adolesence disappoints the mystery that Miller successfully sets up.
Director David Millman did a fine job setting the right tone to the evening. His staging was simple and clean. David Burke was well-cast and did a good job as Merritt. Here Burke was simple, believable, and likable. Caroline Strong was at the heart of the play as Hill, and her mysterious qualities contributed to much of the intrigue in the piece. She was never pushed in the role and her notes rang true. Carolyn Popp as Renata Tate (the mom) was very effective in the role of enabler, and the moments that were strongest were her moments of denial. Interestingly, she lies probably just as much as her daughter. Valerie Stodghill's performance was terrific as Lucy. She captured Lucy's anger and frustration very well. Michael Ornstein's Paul Karrow was a little too mannered than needed be.
The production design by Allan Dennis and the lighting
design by Thurston Reyes were adequate in setting the tone
of the play but nothing more.
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