[Ed. Note: This TheaterMania article originally appeared in November 2000, when Food For Thought began at The Producer's Club. In light of the popular series' reopening at the National Arts Club this month, here is a revised version of the piece. Bon appetit!]
What do you do when you break for lunch? Talk on the phone? Read a newspaper? Stand on line for half-an-hour at the bank? Here's an alternative: See a one-act play, and get a gourmet lunch in the bargain.
This is a way to feed both the stomach and the soul, and get yourself back to work with your brain fully exercised. The idea of playwright (and now producer) Susan Charlotte, Food For Thought: Lunch Hour Theatre is one that stage folks are literally eating up. In the scant few months since she had her brainstorm, Charlotte has enticed some of Broadway and Off-Broadway's most talented writers and actors to participate. Food For Thought allows you to sample new or rarely seen work by such writers as Arthur Miller, John Guare, and Richard Wesley, and to savor the performances of the likes of Judith Light, Kate Burton, Judith Ivey, Robert LuPone, and Rita Moreno.
The idea for the series came to Charlotte, as most ideas do, out of necessity. The playwright had written a one-act called Love Divided By and she was looking for a company to put it up. To her surprise, she says, "I couldn't find any venues other than festivals that featured short plays." So she did what many thwarted playwrights think about doing: She created her own producing venue.
Once Charlotte had the idea to combine readings of a series of short plays with food service, the project mushroomed (you'll excuse the expression). Several writers with whom she discussed her vision immediately volunteered their plays. It was if a light bulb suddenly went on over everyone's collective head: Here was a way to create an outlet for one-acts where one had never existed before.
"As soon as we got playwrights like Peter Stone and Edward Pomerantz involved, the acting talent was astonishingly easy to attract," says Charlotte, who was knocked out by the fierce commitment the actors brought to the project. By way of example, she notes that "Blair Brown was among the first actors to volunteer, and she agreed to do it despite the fact that she was then starring in Copenhagen on Broadway and flying off to Liverpool to shoot scenes for a film. She actually arranged her filming around her Food for Thought play dates, rather than the other way around!" As the acting ranks filled, Charlotte was particularly pleased with the extraordinary camaraderie of the troupe. "There were no egos, no star turns," she says. "They just wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to work on these one-acts could be accommodated with the plays and the dates of their choice."
One of the keys to the virtual overnight success of Food for Thought was Charlotte's alliance with Kenneth Martin, manager of the Producer's Club on West 44th Street. Martin was so enthusiastic about the idea that he not only offered his stage to the fledgling series, he came on board as a producer. As the series grew in size and ambition, more help was needed, and in stepped yet another valuable producer: Harold Thau, whose impressive credits include the original New York production of Sam Shepard's True West. At this writing, still others in the theatrical community are jumping onto the Food for Thought bandwagon (or is that chuck wagon?). The buzz on the series is so great that the William Morris Agency is actively steering many of its New York-based actors and writers toward it.
And theatergoers are now actively steering their way to the National Arts Club, where the series is reopening, to get some Food for Thought on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday afternoons from 1:00 to 2:00pm, January 22-March 29. Tickets for each Food for Thought presentation, including lunch and a play, are $25 (or $15 if you skip the meal). You can also purchase series tickets: five plays plus food for $100. Unless you tend to meet your boyfriend or girlfriend for a little love in the afternoon, this is just about the best possible way to spend a lunch break.