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A CurtainUp Review
A Light Lunch

Isn't Mr. Gurney old?—Beth.


I assumed his agent would be old, too.—Beth

The older agents handle mainly musicals now. There's more money there. So they gave Gurney to me.— Gary
A Light Lunch
Beth Hoyt & Tom Lipinski in A Light Lunch (Photo: Richard Termine)
The interim between the November election and the January inauguration has felt interminably long. Another day, another press conference with new appointees lined up behind President-Elect Obama to reassure us that yes, George W. Bush will move back to Texas —eventuality. To keep us from impatiently biting our fingernails every time the President who's still in office shows up on our television or computer screens, there's A Light Lunch, A. R. Gurney's light-hearted theatrical Bush-basher which takes us enough into the future, for Mr. Bush to have become one of our living ex-presidents.

Gurney, who wrote this short, intermissionless comedy especially for five members of the Flea Theatre's young resident company, the Bats, clearly had a lot of fun making himself the plot's focus. That's not to say, he's actually on stage (though he was in the audience on the evening I was at the Flea). The conceit of the theatrical lunch he's concocted is that a play of his prompts a meeting of two young professionals —Beth (Beth Hoyt), an attractive and ambitious fledgling lawyer from Texas and Gary (Tom Lipinski), an equally ambitious bottom-of-the-rung agent at the William Morris Literary Agency (which not so incidentally represents Mr. Gurney). If Beth and Gary can strike a deal, it will give Beth's client the rights to A. R. Gurney's newest script and Gary a nice fat commission.

It's an amusing premise and Gurney's willingness to poke fun at himself provides A Light Lunch with its best laugh lines. The deal-making lunch makes for an unfussy, economical stage set-up of a few checkered cloth covered tables and a wall with some framed celebrity cartoons to evoke an ersatz Sardi's in the the Manhattan theater district where Beth and Gary are meeting.

Hoyt and Lipinski are attractive, capable actors and Havilah Brewster ratchets up the deal making's comic potenial as Viola, their aggressively intrusive wannabe-actor/server. But despite the Flea's artistic director Jim Simpson's best efforts, there's no getting away from the fact that the adjective defining the titular lunch also applies to the play. You're more than likely to guess why the Beth's Texas millionaire client is willing to pay so handsomely for the rights to Gurney's script well before Gary does, and, like Beth, you'll tire of Brewster's scenery chewing entrances and exits well before the lunch negotiations and the romantic subtext are worked out.

Seasoned playwright that he is, Gurney knows how to give even what's basically a sketch for a TV show an arc; thus once Beth's client is revealed, the negotiations are further complicated by a revelation that Gurney's play is not only without an ending but is undergoing a major revision. Supposedly prompted by similarities and kinship between the Gurneys and Bushes, this rewrite disingenuously veers from Bush attack mode to an attempt to redeem the ex-president's reputation, thus putting a whole new spin on the Texas client's potential reaction. Unfortunately, this second round of negotiations is somewhat ham-fisted and way too polemical, which isn't helped by the arrival of Viola's boyfriend Marshall (John Russo).

While Screenplay (review) , another play written by Mr. Gurney, performed by a Bats ensemble and directed by Simpson, also wore a bit thin after a while, it was more unique. Still, it's certainly admirable for a well-known playwright with a large following to write original plays especially for this small, off-the-beaten path theater—whether cast with fledgling actors or stars, as was the case with Mrs. Farnsworth (review). It will be interesting to see if Mr. Gurney dishes up something more substantial than this talky lunch when the President of his choice takes office.

A Light Lunch
World Premiere by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Jim Simpson
Cast: Havilah Brewster (Viola), Beth Hoyt (Beth),, Tom Lipinski (Gary), John Russo (Marshall)
Sets: John McDermott
Lights: Miranda Hardy
Costumes: Erin Murphy
Sound: Jill BC DuBoff
Stage Manager: Shani Murfin
Running Time: Approx 1 hour and 15 minutes, without intermission
The Flea 41 White Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal, 212-352-3101 or
From 12/12/08; opening 12/19/08; closing 1/25/09
Tickets, $20 - $25
Weds - Fri. at 7pm, Sat. at 3pm & 7pm and Sun. at 3pm.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 12/17 press preview
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