Betty Buckley, Tuc Watkins, and
Christy Carlson Romano
in White's Lies
(© Ken Howard)
Betty Buckley, Tuc Watkins, and
Christy Carlson Romano
in White's Lies
(© Ken Howard)
Can you think of a single more potent laugh-killer than the word "cancer"? Every time it crops up in Ben Andron's new comedy, White's Lies at New World Stages, you can feel the script's humor curdle, in spite of the committed work of an extremely stellar cast.

The specter of the "C" word is how a cranky, manipulative mother -- played by the legendary Betty Buckley -- tries to convince her son, successful lawyer Joe White (played by TV favorite Tuc Watkins, whose role calls for a lot of pec-flexing), to give her a grandchild. And while the audience will find themselves laughing at the script's funnier bits, it's hard for them to root for either of these characters, especially since Joe is so emotionally withholding that he won't even treat last night's "dates" to breakfast lest they grow attached to him.

In fact, he doesn't even bother to take them home with him, preferring to "bed" them on a black leather chaise in his office, a situation which makes an enabler of his colleague, sitcom-obssessed Alan (the marvelous, underutilized Peter Scolari, who shows just how much a true pro can do with even the most time-tested material), and a traffic controller of their snarky gay junior associtate Mark (Jimmy Ray Bennett, who also does the best he can with the now-familiar role).

Into this dyfsfunctional unit, comes Barbara (Andrea Grano, who does wonders with the thinly written role), an embittered, thrice-divorcing ex-grlfriend of Joe's, now out for revenge. And she just happens to have an age-appropriate, indeterminately fathered daughter, Michelle (Christy Carlson Romano), who is willing to pose as Joe's newly discovered offspring in exchange for Joe's free representation for Mom, plus some cash to pay off her student loans.

There's definitely "something different" about this young woman from Joe's usual lady friends (all played by Rena Strober), and Joe soon finds himself mooning over his fake offspring. And should this plot turn strike you as insufficiently unsavory, there's always a further ickiness factor: the hanging question of whether Joe is actually her father.

All is resolved in the end, which isn't surprising since White's Lies owes a huge debt to the sitcom genre. But what can be palatable in 30 minutes with commercial breaks is far less tasty when stretched over two hours.