This review of Straight Faced Lies at Teatro Latea (in the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Straight Faced Lies
Straight Faced Lies
A Play by Mark Jason Williams
Directed by Andrew Block
Teatro Latea (at the Clemente)
107 Suffolk Street
New York, New York 10002
If you are in the mood to witness an extremely dysfunctional family that I guarantee will make you feel better about your own, then this is the play for you. Straight Faced Lies takes place the night before and on Thanksgiving. Mark Ryan, the father, is being let out of prison and is coming home just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Cathy Ryan, his wife, is hosting the dinner at her home in his honor and wants nothing to interfere with that. Her two children, Melissa and James (who lives with her), will be there as will Melissa's boyfriend Joe (who was invited) and James' boyfriend Kip (who was not invited). Marie, who is Cathy's sister, will also be in attendance. Early on, we hear the line, "We tell lies to others and ourselves," and every character in this play with the exception of Kip and Joe, the two non-family members, tell big, straight faced lies to themselves and each other.
Marie, the mother's alcoholic sister, has just been dumped by her latest boyfriend. She hid from her niece and nephew that she once had an abortion "that screwed up her insides" making her unable to bear children. She is man-crazy ("Guys are like dicks. One is never enough.") and hates God for giving her ex-husband cancer and allowing him to suffer ("God made my husband suffer. Now he is making me suffer. So maybe God is a bit of a dick.") Melissa, the daughter, has been hiding the fact she is pregnant and doesn't really love her boyfriend Joe. While they were having sex, she was texting and when she got bored, she told him, "I'm done!" and selfishly expected him to get off her. She had no problem saying to her mother, "You are a real cunt!" and "You are a deeply disturbed woman!" James, the son, is lying to himself and everyone else about his being gay and having been in a one-year relationship with Kip. He denies he loves Kip straight to his face and is resentful his mother made him "man of the house" as a teenager after his father went to prison for selling illegal drugs to his sister's girlfriend, who died as a result. Cathy, the mother, knew about the father's drug-selling activities but never told the children because they had a lot of bills piling up that needed to be paid.
Absurdity reigns in this production. Cathy, the psychotic mother, receives a phone call that her husband Mark has killed himself. She explains she told the police to drop off his dead body at their home because she intends to prop him up at the table to have that one last dinner together with her family. The police supposedly agreed (which is completely ridiculous) and when her family members suggest they are leaving, she pulls a loaded gun on them and forces them to eat dinner at gunpoint (When she asked how the turkey was, Kip responded, "I'd rather talk about the elephant"). The mother, who was Miss Poughkeepsie three years in a row, shoots a buffet into the ceiling to prove it was really loaded, but when it's all over and Melissa suggests to James they consider having their mother committed to a mental institution, he inexplicably responds, "No, she's fine." The daughter's boyfriend Joe then ends up making out with his girlfriend's mother and finally, to cap off the absurdity, the police do eventually show up, first to arrest Marie for using her ex-boyfriend's credit card, and later, to drop off the father's corpse ("Daddy's home!")
Some of the best lines in the play come from discussion of James' secret. Marie catches Kip kissing James "on his tulips." Melissa asks, "Have you told mom yet." and when he says no, she says, "Too bad, Too bad. News like that might kill her." James then learns Melissa is pregnant and says, "It seems we both have a big fat secret." Kip says, "who are you calling fat?" In another exchange Kip admits he is "constantly rubbing off on James," and when the mother is concerned with James' behavior and asks, "What has gotten into that boy today?", Kip responds, "Not me! Not me!" Cathy, the mother, says "who cares what someone else does as long as I don't have to see it," and once James is finally outed, she confronts her own son over his not telling her by saying, "if you can't stand up to me, how are you going to face up to the rest of the world."
The two strongest actors in this production were Cindy Marchionda, who played Marie, and Curtis Wiley, who was Kip. Both truly embodied their characters and brought light to the stage by their very presence. Jacob Thompson excelled in the role of James if the goal was to make him into an unsympathetic asshole who the audience hoped would die. By the last scene when he tried to make up with Kip, the audience was rooting against him and secretly cheered when Kip pushed him away and knocked him onto the ground. Geraldine Librandi (Cathy), Dana Domenick (Melissa), and Joey Collins (Joe) all did fine jobs bringing their characters to life.
Straight Faced Lies is supposed to be a comedy, and while I will admit there are a few funny lines in the show, from the perspective of the audience, it is more like being trapped on a ride descending into hell. There are no likeable characters in the Ryan family and none have any redeeming qualities. It is a complete downer and once the mother pulls out a gun with the intention of forcing her guests to have Thanksgiving Dinner with the corpse of her dead husband, the play goes too far in my opinion. Realism is thrown out the window and I was not inclined to give the play a pass by suspending my disbelief. Nevertheless, if you have recently complained about the bad relationship you have with your parents or siblings, save money on therapy and just see this show. It will instantly make you feel better!
Straight Faced Lies premiered as part of New York City's Planet Connections Festivity in 2013 where Mark Jason Williams won the Outstanding Playwriting for New Script Award. The show I saw was part of the 19th Annual New York International Fringe Festival, and the play has already been accepted as an entry in the 2015 Capital Fringe. For more information, visit www.straightfacedlies.com