Havilah Brewster, John Russo, Tom Lipinski, and Beth Hoyt
in A Light Lunch
(© Richard Termine)
Havilah Brewster, John Russo, Tom Lipinski, and Beth Hoyt
in A Light Lunch
(© Richard Termine)
A.R. Gurney's tasty new play at the Flea Theater, A Light Lunch, his latest work about our soon-to-be ex-President, is 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 theater -- and self-deprecating comments about A.R. Gurney himself -- to make serio-comic points about George Bush throughout the play.

The play begins with Beth (Beth Hoyt), a young female lawyer from Texas arriving at a New York restaurant to meet A.R. Gurney's agent from William Morris. Before the agent arrives, Beth asks the waitress (and would-be actress) Viola (Havilah Brewster) if she knows anything about A.R. Gurney. She replies what we all know: "He writes about WASPS." And then, meaningfully, she adds: "And more recently also about Jews."

When the agent, Gary (Tom Lipinski), arrives there is much talk about the lawyer's mysterious client. This section is the only weak area of the piece because we know right from the start that she represents a client that wants to buy the rights to Gurney's new anti-Bush play in order to keep it from ever being produced; yet it takes a long time for Gary to come to the same realization. The best part of this "reveal," however, is that the agent, like the audience, wonders not only how Bush and his people knew about the play and this "underrated" playwright, but why they would even care? It turns out that one of the people in the William Morris mailroom, in order to make extra money, is a temp at the CIA and he let the word out about Gurney's play. Since the tip came from the CIA, the Bush family is taking this seriously.

The plot continues to spin, even as Viola, who has constantly been interrupting the lunch meeting to offer theatrical information -- and even audition --. pulls yet another delicious plot device out of her menu of comic contrivances. And 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. John Russo, who plays a drama teacher at The New School, gives an inspired comic turn near the play's end -- which is greatly enhanced by Simpson's decision to have this same actor give an amusing curtain speech to the audience before the play begins.

This is a no-frills production with modest design by John McDermott, minimal lighting design by Miranda Hardy, and straightforward costume design by Erin Murphy. The emphasis of the production, other than the fine acting, is on the text of Gurney's play, which is where the focus rightly belongs.