nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
May 4, 2007
Heiress Productions is off to a good start with their new revival of Jean Kerr's 1980 domestic comedy, Lunch Hour. This talented new fledgling company shows they've got what it takes to mount a polished, professional-looking production. Their choice of material may be a little pedestrian, in this case, but they're still a bunch worth keeping an eye on.
The setting is a beach house in Bridgehampton, Long Island, that longtime married couple Oliver and Nora are renting for the summer. He's a marriage counselor trying to write his second self-help book in peace and quiet; she's a little tired of answering the phone for him because he's "too busy." Any hope Oliver has of getting the book finished in time goes out the window when free-spirited Carrie unexpectedly arrives on his doorstep and claims that her husband, Peter, is having an affair with Nora. Two can play this game. Oliver immediately devises a scheme to make Nora and Peter think that he (Oliver) and Carrie are lovers, as well, in the hopes that jealousy will send everyone back into the arms of their proper spouse.
Kerr's script is an old-fashioned piece of retro quaintness. It may have debuted in 1980, but the author was a product of Broadway's Golden Age, so it often plays like something much older. Think Kaufman & Hart mixed with Bernard Slade. This is the kind of play where people make comments like "Stop crying. You'll just get extra salt on everything," and "I'm a mature, intelligent woman—of course I'm afraid of my mother." These upper-crusters are more likely to try solving a problem with a witty rejoinder than common sense. And while the problems of rich people may not be the most compelling subject matter in the world, Kerr's play contains enough craft to make Lunch Hour coast on that alone.
The artists of Heiress Productions do a much better job of acquitting themselves. Maura Farver directs with a genuine appreciation for the conventions of this type of comedy. Lunch Hour is crisp, clean, and well-executed in that regard. Set designer Josh Zangen does a bang-up job with the play's beach house setting. Indie theater budgets rarely allow the kind of thoroughness and authenticity he achieves here.
Heiress co-founders Laura Faith and Mary Willis White turn in accomplished performances as Carrie and Nora, respectively. J.T. Michael Taylor earns all his laughs as Lunch Hour's resident comic relief, Leo, and Morgan Baker is appropriately smarmy as Peter. The production's secret weapon, though, is Jeff Pagliano as Oliver. Stuck playing the straight man role, Pagliano turns stuffed shirt Oliver into something more, effortlessly navigating his character's transition from laughing stock to leading man lynchpin.
Lunch Hour will make audiences smile while introducing them to an earnest and able new company. Hopefully, they'll pair themselves up with a stronger script next time around.