Review: In ‘Lunch Bunch,’ You Are What Eats You05/22/2019
In Sarah Einspanier’s “Lunch Bunch,” the trim, compassionate comedy that opens Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks festival at the Wild Project, a group of public defenders tries to do good, feel good and eat well. Five of them have formed Lunch Bunch, a club in which members take turns cooking and packing “veggie/ healthy, friendly/ forward” meals for one another.
No peppers. Jacob (Ugo Chukwu) is allergic. And don’t even think of serving pretzels as a side dish.
“It’s the 21st century,” Hannah (Irene Sofia Lucio) explains. “With a few clicks on the internet and a trip to Trader Joe’s, you can replicate the feasts of past emperors in under 30 minutes.”
Between the towering caseloads, the obstructionist judges and the vulnerable clients, these lawyers, who sit in ergonomic chairs facing a persimmon wall (Jean Kim did the set design), don’t have it easy. (Neither do we: Ms. Einspanier’s clipped lines include a lot of legal jargon — ACS, DV, 1028s. Keep up!) The job doesn’t allocate for a personal life; weekends are spent mostly alone, with Netflix and maybe a cat.
The curried quinoa salads and barbecue jackfruit sandwiches are a kind of compensation. At least until Tal (Eliza Bent) leaves for a trip to Paris, and Tuttle (Keilly McQuail) decides to adopt the restrictive Whole30 diet, throwing the Lunch Bunch into chaos. Two new attorneys are recruited, Mitra (Nana Mensah) who is a lunch bunch natural, and Nicole (Julia Sirna-Frest), who is not. Her first attempt: mixed nut butter and jelly on leftover pita bread.
If you know Clubbed Thumb — and you should, because the company has more than 20 years of gutsy new play development under its belt — you’ll recognize this as a very Clubbed Thumb show: idiosyncratic, nonrealistic, gently experimental with a Downtown’s greatest hits compilation of a cast. (Ms. McQuail is a particular standout, but then again she always is.) Directed by Tara Ahmadinejad and running just about an hour, the length of a slightly luxurious lunch break, it’s a slim show, yes, but also charming and smart and kindly.
For most of these characters, the focus on food is a coping mechanism, a welcome distraction. Take Tuttle. Why would a person voluntarily renounce sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol and fun? She is hoping to find “whatever’s been giving me occasional gas and near constant feelings of worthlessness,” she says.
In other words, you are what eats you. And as “Lunch Bunch” ultimately suggests, lemon tahini goddess noodles with garlic broccolini are probably — probably — less important than what we owe to one another and how we live in fumbling, sustaining, necessary fellowship.
Watching the play, I remembered what I’d eaten earlier that day — a lukewarm egg and cheese sandwich, which I’d split with my 2-year-old, plus whatever blueberries the kid discarded — and how this was probably evidence that I am not living my best life.
Or maybe I am. Because what mattered is that we’d shared it and enjoyed sharing it and fed the bread to the birds after. Food for thought.
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