Saturday, June 6, 2015

WOBT: "100 Lunches: a gourmet comedy"

Jack Sharkey and Leo W. Sears have penned a witty comedy now playing under Sam Wallace's steady direction at the Way Off Broadway Theatre in Prattville. 100 Lunches: a gourmet comedy has three acts with two intermissions, a few dated 1980s references, and a fairly predictable plot, but Mr. Wallace's solid ensemble cast take the stage with confidence, and deliver an entertaining evening with plenty of laughs.

Mr. Wallace's set design -- the living room of popular and prolific playwright Charleton "Chuck" Reynolds [Matthew Givens], and in Act II, several restaurants -- affords plenty of room and flexibility, and is furnished with an abundance of set-dressings and props made especially for this production (give them a close look during intermission).

At the start, Charleton's latest play has just opened in New York, but its single scathing review from critic Charity Starr [Michon R. Givens] is so upsetting that he vows revenge in front of his teenage son Terry [newcomer Timothy Rotkiewicz] and their housekeeper Mrs. Glinda Bellows [Janie Allred], who delight in inventing scenarios for him to get even. Yolanda Weintraub [AUM theatre major Cathy Ranieri] insinuates herself into Charleton's life in numerous attempts to spark his love interest, and when the critic shows up she perceives an instant rivalry.

But Charity has come to "clear the air" and "ask a favor" -- it seems she has written a play herself and "needs his help with it", claiming that though his characters are "wooden", he writes good plots. -- Sensing an opening for the revenge he seeks, he agrees to tutor her over a series of lunches that she will pay for, and so the scene is set.

Act II takes them to an eclectic assortment of restaurants where they are served by a Waiter [T. J. Maddox who assumes various ethnicities and personalities in a tour de force performance that has audiences anticipating each successive and distinct embodiment]. -- It comes as no surprise to us that Charleton and Charity develop an affection for each other that neither expected at the start; opposites do attract at times.

The tables are turned in the final act when Charity's first play opens in New York, and the critical response is the opposite of what she expected. -- And, as a comedy, there must be a happy ending, no matter how contrived.

As an ensemble company, these actors turn in creditable and credible performances, enhancing naturalistic speech with over-the-top emotional tirades, and delivering the playwrights' witty dialogue confidently. Mr. Rotkiewicz is especially adept at his character's sophisticated-beyond-his-youth dialogue that shows a lot of promise for future productions; and Ms. Allred is commanding in her no nonsense approach. Together, they serve as a kind of Greek Chorus that supplies wit and understanding that the other characters take more time to comprehend.

Ms. Ranieri's characterization of the ever-annoying Yolanda is done with vacuous simplicity that garners plenty of laughs. -- And Mr. Maddox almost steals the show with his depictions of the eclectic Waiters, each of which has instantly recognizable traits that he gives a human touch.

But Mr. and Mrs./Ms. Givens [they are actually husband and wife, appearing on-stage together for the first time] are excellent sparring partners. When sparks fly as they often do, and when smoldering love bursts into flame, they are always believable and funny. Good work here.

Mr. Wallace directs with a confident hand. 100 Lunches moves at a steady pace, allows time for humorous dialogue to be digested, and delivers a satisfying repast for a Summer's evening at the theatre.