In the first play of Clubbed Thumb’s 24thannual Summerworks festival at the Wild Project – the first summer theater festival of the season — the cast faces us a la A Chorus Line, except instead of singing “I hope I get it,”they recite “Veggie enchiladas with Clementine” and “Rice, steamed kale, spiced tofu.”
It’s only after several such culinary recitations that we’re told these people are members of a lunch group, each member having agreed to make lunch for everybody else once a week. It takes a little longer to figure out that they are lawyers in a public defender’s office, that it’s a taxing job – “Greg’s resilient,” says Tuttle (Keilly McQuail), “He never cries in the coat closet” – and that obsessing on food is what helps keep them going. Or as Jacob (Ugo Chukwu) puts it to Greg:
“I have low expectations, little faith, when it comes to the law, government, organized religion, things that fall under the umbrella of humanity and its systems. And so, I seek my jollies, my joy, my bliss, what have you – some semblance of control – in this one area, this one arena, of my existence.”
“Joy is a vulnerable emotion,” replies Greg (Jon Norman Schneider), who is the office philosopher.
The evolving scenes between Greg and Jacob are among the few anchors in this fragmentary one-hour play by Sarah Einspanier. “Lunch Bunch” is largely composed of group recitation, staccato dialogue, very brief and obscure references to clients and court cases, and only a limited sense of forward motion: The group adjusts to exits and replacements , to members’ allergies, new obsessive diets, and other small changes. There are many fleeting moments of humor. In one brief scene, Tuttle tells her colleagues she’s given up eating just about everything, and will slowly incorporate the dairy and beans and sugar etc. one by one back into her diet to learn “whatever’s been giving me occasional gas and near constant feelings of worthlessness.” In a later brief scene, she reports back to her colleagues:
Tuttle (Keilly McQuail): Turns out I’m not allergic to anything
Mitra (Nana Mensah): Sorry
Hannah: (Irene Sofia Lucio): Congrats
These skit-like interactions are interrupted by one long surreal and hilarious monologue by David (Mike Shapiro), dressed in a suit and under a spotlight. He explains how he was thrown out of lunch bunch and thrust into a late Stone Age savannah, where he struggles to survive. Despite his having been a vegetarian “ever since I learned one Big Mac requires roughly 600 gallons of water” he begins to long for BBQ.
“Lunch Bunch” is fully in keeping with Clubbed Thumb’s tradition of adventuresome fare, and is served well by the game eight-member cast of downtown theater regulars, and by Tara Ahmadinejad’s direction. She stages the characters sitting on their ergonomic chairs facing a back wall that has a single shelf, suggesting a row of sterile cubicles. Or she has them stand up facing us on the lip of the small stage, interacting with one another in small groups. Or they slide around in their chairs, or stare vacantly into the ether, or scream up at the unknown, or recite meals in unison. It all feels almost musical.
Click on any photograph by Elke Young to see it enlarged.
Written by Sarah Einspanier; Directed by Tara Ahmadinejad
Sets By Jean Kim, costumes By Alice Tavener, lights By Oona Curley, sound By Ben Vigus, props By Raphael Mishler, production stage manager Alex Williamson
Cast: Eliza Bent, Ugo Chukwu, Irene Sofia Lucio, Keilly McQuail, Nana Mensah, Jon Norman Schneider and Julia Sirna-Frest
Running time: One hour, no intermission.
Lunch Bunch is on stage through May 28, 2019
This is almost all sold out, so hurry.