100 Lunches

The Adelaide Repertory Theatre. Arts Theatre - 23 Nov

Jack Sharkey wrote 82 published plays, some of them in collaboration – like this one with Leo W. Sears.  Thankfully Sharkey passed away in 1992 and won’t be writing any more clunkers like 100 Lunches, but you can still look up such enticing titles like, Jekyll Hydes Again, How Green Was My Brownie, and everyone’s favourite, Par For The Corpse.  That gives you some of idea of the sense of humour of this prolific American writer.  More corn than Nebraska.

Masochistic director Jude Hines steps up to the dinner plate and attempts to transform a sow’s belly into a silk purse without much success.  This romantic comedy set in New York involves an unlikely plot premise of a theatre critic agreeing to pay for 100 lunches in order to get play writing lessons from a perennial writer of mysteries.  But, guess what, she’s really in love with him and doesn’t let on until the end after her play opens.  In the meantime, we sit beside them at a bunch of lunches in what seems like a gastronomical tour of New York restaurants ranging from the swellest hotels to hot dog havens.  And at each one, who do you find but Barry Hill donning evermore outlandish wigs and wardrobe as a brother of the waiter before, even though he is Chinese-Mexican, French or greasy pot-bellied.  And increasingly funny each time.

Rodney Hutton and Theresa Sugars as Chuck Reynolds and Charity Starr (but it could easily be Charity Starr and Chuck Reynolds as Theresa Sugars and Rodney Hutton) played their parts with great ease and easy with each other.  It was delightful to see them grow together gastronomically speaking and even improve at eating in restaurants and handling Barry Hill. 

For no apparent reason whatsoever, Sharkey and Sears have a lot of blathery dialogue spouting from the mouths of writer Reynolds’ kid and housemaid.  Myra Waddell played it capably but very low key and was a black hole for energy.  Twelve-year-old Benjamin Maio as the twelve-year-old wisecracking gimcrack has the voice of a four-year-old that made him virtually unintelligible.  And he has a bad habit of telegraphing his lines with his gestures.  Sorry, kid, if this is your first bad review, but I’m sure you have a life in the theatre if you want one.  Joanna Patrick swanned in occasionally as an unexplained Reynolds admirer wannabe lover and was suitably annoying and pretentious, but this role was also another poorly devised device.

The ever popular set designer Ole Wiebkin did his best in two dimensions but still managed to convey correct restaurant atmospherics.  Lighting designer Laraine Wheeler must have had one eye closed and left stage right in the dark.   

Brilliant effort, but it put me off me tucker.

David Grybowski