Before George W. Bush departs from office on January 20, he will have issued numerous, last-minute executive orders. Likely inclusions: diktats that eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, countermand disability rights, and weaken clean-air legislation. The agent and lawyer in A.R. Gurney’s Bush-centric comedy, A Light Lunch, at the Flea, also issue some executive orders—a Caesar salad, a bowl of minestrone soup, some Perrier.
As those insubstantial items suggest, this is not heavyweight political satire. Gurney’s enjoyably flimsy farce plays out at a restaurant suspiciously like Sardi’s, its walls adorned with caricatures of Flea familiars such as Young Jean Lee, Will Eno, Mac Wellman, and A Light Lunch director Jim Simpson. Here, A.R. Gurney’s agent, Gary (Tom Lipinski), and a Texas lawyer, Beth (Beth Hoyt), arrive to nibble and chat. Representing an undisclosed client, Beth attempts to acquire “an incomplete draft of an unproduced play” of Gurney’s, rumored to include an unfavorable portrait of the 43rd president. A brassy waitress and her drama-professor boyfriend interrupt the action with unsolicited advice and dramaturgy.
Gurney pokes quite a bit of fun at himself. When Beth asks the waitress what she knows of the playwright Gurney, the waitress responds, “Is he the one who’s been around, like, forever?” She continues: “And he writes plays about WASPs? But not just WASPs. I think my boyfriend said that some of Gurney’s plays now have Jewish people in them.” Of course, he also has the waitress declare that her boyfriend believes “Gurney may well be the most underrated playwright in these United States.”
A Light Lunch won’t help cement that reputation. It lacks the bite of Gurney’s other Bush-critical political comedies, also directed by Simpson: O, Jerusalem and Mrs. Farnsworth. 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. We expect great things from her during the next administration.
Were Bush to issue an executive decree halting performances of writer-director Bina Sharif’s Here Comes the Change, the loss would not be greatly felt. Immensely well-intentioned and indisputably awful, this toothless political satire gums its way through 90 minutes of witless lampoon.
The show begins in the 1980s as fright-wigged Fatima (Sharif), a Muslim performance artist, finds herself mysteriously pregnant. She births a slim, leggy man (Omar Robinson). God helpfully announces, “I’m naming him Barack Hussein Obama, and he is also the baby Jesus.” The action promptly fast-forwards to the 2008 debates, where the play’s level of discourse never transcends Sarah Palin shouting “maverick” like a Tourette’s tic and John McCain boasting about his many homes.
Around me, six or seven audience members dropped off to sleep. To my right, a man muttered, “The finale, the finale,” as if by way of incantation. A few rows down, a young boy wore a look of age-inappropriate weariness and despair. In a curtain-call speech, Sharif appeared an altogether pleasant woman, which only rendered the experience more painful. Here Comes the Change marks her 18th show at Theater for the New City. Change would be welcome here, too.