Monday, December 22, 2008

A Light Lunch

Photo/Richard Termine

A. R. Gurney isn't a subtle playwright, so he'll have to appreciate this bluntness: A Light Lunch is an awful play. Gurney has made the twofold mistake of thinking that (1) references to exposition excuse its constant use and (2) that being unapologetically glib about it is funny. (Based on his recent performance as a playwright, "thinking" might also be considered a mistake for Gurney.) The plot is a discussion of plot, the drama is a discourse on drama, and acting is the action: in other words, it's all derivative, it's all secondhand, there is nothing new to see here, go home.

Beth (Beth Hoyt) is trying to purchase A. R. Gurney's latest play--supposedly a final nail in Bush's coffin--from Gurney's young agent, Gary (Tom Lipinski). For monotony breaking comic relief, their nosy actor/waiter, Viola (Havilah Brewster), breaks down the dramatic structure of their lunch. They'll have a conflict because "the theater thrives on conflict"; that talking they're doing, "we call it exposition." It's doubtful that there were ever actual characters to begin with, but exchanges like these ensure that no shred of humanity survives: "That's exactly why I've been delaying my entrance...I could tell by your blocking that your scene was taking a different turn." "Our plot is thickening, Viola." Things get better only because they cannot get any worse: John Russo is at least smug enough as Viola's theater-professor boyfriend, Marshall, to maximize his role as "deus ex machina" and to relish explaining, in a spin on The Bridge Over the River Kwai, why the Bush of Gurney's play must go through an "anagnorisis."

Good old Marshall warns us not to call theater "interesting": "It's the kiss of death...'interesting' describes only an intellectual experience. Plays should always invoke an emotional response." But A Light Lunch isn't substantial enough to fail at being "interesting": the hands-off content is far too tacky and talky and hammy and harmless to do anything. These may be lean times, but just as audiences deserved more than Bush these last eight years, he deserves more than A Light Lunch for a last meal.

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