Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Light Lunch


By A.R. Gurney. Dir. Jim Simpson. Flea Theatre. (CLOSED)

One of the more unlikely artistic partnerships in downtown theatre--that of brittle WASP chronicler A.R. Gurney with Jim Simpson's mostly edgy Flea Theatre--reaches a culmination of sorts with what we can only assume is Gurney's final Bush-bashing comedy. A few critics were respectfully amused by Gurney's self-deprecating meta-plot, about Bush 43's efforts to suppress a play by Gurney, and nearly all of them praised the performances of the Flea's young actors. But most found the effort insufficiently amusing, inventive, or trenchant. (And for the record, only two critics made timely references to Iraqi shoe-tossing.)

Theatermania A-
(Barbara & Scott Siegel) A model of political theater. The beauty of it is that its politics and its theater could not be more inextricably bound. Exquisitely self-aware, A Light Lunch uses the make serio-comic points about George Bush throughout the play...Make no mistake, much of the plot is a contrivance, but we are happy to indulge Gurney, because we know that the playwright does not come to praise Bush, he comes to bury him. The play is fluidly directed by Jim Simpson, and the cast play their roles adroitly.

News-Times B+
(Chesley Plemmons) It's clear from the start that...Gurney must have had a high old time with "A Light Lunch." "Lunch" is both an inside joke about the theater and a clever--but not excessively caustic--evaluation of the Bush presidency...Though the issues are serious the youthful nature of all four characters keeps everything light--like the lunch--and airy...A word of advice--if you find yourself in a restaurant in the theater district and your waiter or waitress announces him or herself as your server and has a name that sounds suspiciously like it came from a play--quick!--get another table.

CurtainUp B
(Elyse Sommer) It's an amusing premise and Gurney's willingness to poke fun at himself provides A Light Lunch with its best laugh lines...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.

Variety B-
(Sam Thielman) A. R. Gurney's jokey new play, A Light Lunch, is refreshingly unlike most contempo American political theater. Sadly, that's more or less all it has going for it--Flea Theater a.d. Jim Simpson's production OD's on wackiness, overplaying Gurney's featherweight humor and shticky characters without pausing to let some of the writer's wiser notions sink in...Ultimately, A Light Lunch feels less like a play within a play than a workshop within a workshop.

Village Voice B-
(Alexis Soloski) Gurney's enjoyably flimsy farce...lacks the bite of Gurney's other Bush-critical political comedies, also directed by Simpson...Though it runs only 75 minutes, the production feels frustratingly overlong, a one-act stretched into a full-length, an appetizer masquerading as an entrée. The metatheatrical gags pall as Gurney searches for more reasons to extend his lunch hour, but largely fails to find them. The cast, however—composed of Flea resident company the Bats—acquit themselves nicely, particularly Hoyt as the amiably unscrupulous Beth.

Backstage C+
(David Sheward) Pointed political observations are mixed with slightly stale cultural stereotypes for an only mildly pleasing confection...Gurney has fun mocking theatrical conventions, and Flea artistic director Jim Simpson gives the staging a breezy spin...This Light Lunch leaves us hungry and unsatisfied.

New York Post C
(Frank Scheck) A mildly entertaining but minor satire that too often seems less concerned with its ostensible target than with the playwright himself...To his credit, the playwright injects generous doses of self-mockery into the proceedings. "Has Gurney written many plays?" the lawyer asks the agent, who replies, "Too many, according to some critics." But even by the loosest standards for satire, this play is too contrived and silly to score its intended points...An unsubstantial repast.

The New Yorker C-
It’s clear, in this trifle of a play, that Gurney has a few suggestions for Bush about how he might handle his exit from office. While the actors seem to be enjoying themselves pummelling Bush, the audience is left to eavesdrop on yet another uninspiring conversation about politics.

Offoffonline C-
(William Coyle) Criticizing A.R. Gurney’s plays for lack of depth is like criticizing your Toyota Prius for not winning NASCAR—you should know what you’re buying right from the start...Gurney is at his best when he's light. His plays are nearly always entertaining—sometimes even exhilarating, if not quite profound. Yet, A Light Lunch...feels like a throwaway, a diversion. At one point it a
lludes to itself as an aborted work. It’s light, even by Gurney’s standards.

The New York Times D+
(Charles Isherwood) The gentlemanly playwright A. R. Gurney casually tosses his own metaphorical shoe—a penny loafer? a Top-Sider?—in the direction of our departing president in his latest politically minded play...I’m afraid Mr. Gurney’s aim is not as true, or his motivation as urgent, as that of the Iraqi shoe-hurler...Unlike “Mrs. Farnsworth,” Mr. Gurney’s likewise forgettable but more sturdily constructed raspberry blown at Mr. Bush, this play is little more than an overextended joke endlessly in search of a suitable payoff, and feels padded at a mere 75 minutes.

Time Out NY D
(Adam Feldman) Gurney acknowledges the play’s skimpiness in his title, but to call this a lunch at all is misleading; it is a picked-over plate of crudités...All four actors are likable; the real main character is the offstage author, however, and he’s underdeveloped. Gurney, who has written several Bush-bashing comedies for the Flea in recent years, uses this one to get in a few last licks at the departing president. But licking is not biting: This is pretty toothless stuff.

Theatermania A- 12; News-Times B+ 11; CurtainUp B 10; Variety B- 9; Village Voice B- 9; Backstage C+ 8; New York Post C 7; The New Yorker C- 6; Offoffonline C- 6; The New York Times D+ 5; Time Out NY D 4; TOTAL: 87 / 11 = 7.9 (C+)

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