Why Not Just Tell the Truth is an ambitious, yet over-reaching, play at The Tato Laviera Theatre. It is extremely current and very raw, with great music selection for a television show. Based on a web series, of the same name, it brought the challenges of the average TV show to the stage; the need for a talented script doctor and a seasoned director. The play desperately wants to be edgy, however what’s missing is an understanding of theatrical character development, voice projection and pacing. The playwright offers 25 separate scenes in three acts, and as he explains before the current rises, the play is in your face; however it lacks the tightness cinema may forgive but the stage demands.
Written, co-directed and produced by Carleton King, who also plays the lead, Why Not Just Tell The Truth is challenged by King assuming too many duties. His character is on stage for most scenes, never allowing him the latitude to tighten the script or deliver deeper, richer characters. As an actor, King’s vision for the role of Jason requires a deeper, spiritual quest (especially as he argues with God). Throw the Bible on the ground but make it matter. The audience is afforded less time with the characters enduring long scene changes that soften the impact of drama
As a teenager, Jason inherited an extremely large sum of money from his parents. He has been married for two years to a woman who verbally taunts him all the while cheating on him. After finally separating, she is physically abused by her new boyfriend, ridiculed by Jason’s new female companion who proclaims herself a “high-powered attorney” and eventually returns to Jason longing for whatever it is she thinks they had. While Jason has no desire to take her back, her new boyfriend, who is unhappy with her departure, exacts his revenge but on the wrong person. Jason’s best friend Tony struggles with the transition from the dating scene to a more serious relationship, having perfected the persona of a player. Jason’s childhood sweetheart-turned-mafia "hybrid princess" is still longing for a relationship with Jason knowing that his wife is not good for him. Tony, returning from the dead to offer Jason advice, comes off as a cliché rather than sage closure for the character.
The young actors, who anxiously want to do a respectable job delivering every line, lacked exciting direction with a script that includes a lot of story but provides little room for character nuance. Rarely does co-directing enhance the result and in this case merely muddies the result. Why Not Just Tell The Truth is co-directed by Melissa Diaz. Repeatedly, dialogue is swallowed making scenes difficult to understand, and in almost in every scene someone is outside of the pool of light. The lighting technician, Hector Orta, chose not to light stage right but rather use a wide follow spot. A more seasoned director would have caused the actors to deliver more than just basic emotions, while addressing the most important need of an audience—the desire to care.
The Tato Laviera Theatre is a great space with stadium seating, a large stage to work with and an awesome light board. The main set includes a sofa, end table and a Queen Anne, high back chair, and stage left, which is Tony’s bedroom, has a single bed pushed up against the wall. Stage right starts off empty; however throughout the evening, two chairs and a table are noisily moved on and off set. Since most of the scenes that take place in this part of the stage utilize the table and chairs, it would have been simpler to work around them and light the area appropriately. Additionally, stagehands are too often seen, voices are heard from back stage and lighting, and music cues are missed.
Why Not Just Tell The Truth does not have that luxury of a boom mic or editing room. The musical selections are well chosen for a TV show or movie, but on stage, it fragments the story rather than bring it together. The bones of the play—love, betrayal, revenge and forgiveness—are spoken about but without deeper development of the characters, believability has to be suspended leaving little truth to tell.
Performances of Why Not Just Tell The Truth, produced by Tru Luv Entertainment, run on Friday, Feb. 19 at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at The Tato Laviera Theatre (240 East 123rd St. between 2nd and 3rd Aves.) in Manhattan. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by visiting https://www.eventbrite.com/e/why-not-just-tell-the-truth-the-play-tickets-19703885853.
Read our Q&A interview with Carleton King on his inspiration behind Why Not Just Tell The Truth.