The cast of the new Cabrillo Stage production in action. ‘Lunch’ runs through Jan. 19 at the Crocker Theater in Aptos.
Good acting makes a big difference in any production, but the cast of Lunch isn’t just the best part of this winter’s Cabrillo Stage offering. They outshine the material altogether.
After Mackenzie Richards (Max Bennett-Parker) gets hit by a New York City hot dog cart and dies, he finds himself in heaven, where he strikes a deal with receptionist Mona (Samantha Pistoresi) that sends him back to Earth. Mona assigns him four prayers, and if he answers all four betweennoon and 1pm, he’ll get to return to his life as a selfish Wall Street broker.
When Richards starts entering people’s worlds to comfort them during their moments of despair, he switches hilariously from a newscaster to a French maitre d', a British room service attendant and a female nurse. Accompanying Richards is his charming, bumbling God-given sidekick (Nicholas Ceglio)—a “lost soul” who can’t remember his own name.
The play is bolstered by strong vocal performances—like ones from soulful singer Ronald Johnson Jr. as a construction worker and Kristin Schmidt as a young woman whose dad is dying in the hospital.
Richards and his sidekick have tough prayers to answer—with a father who’s thinking about risking financial security by liquidating his assets, a family trying to trying to communicate with its dying father and an Iraq war veteran working as construction worker atop the World Trade Center while grappling with post-traumatic stress. The book doesn’t develop the vast majority of the characters with much depth.
On top of that, some song lyrics are weak and distract from the already scattered, ambitious plot. (One example is a bridge about “Jack and Jill going up the hill to fetch a pail of water,” during a song about looking for meaning after losing a loved one.) This all might explain why the play was forgotten for a couple decades before being unearthed for this Aptos showing.
The play’s original writers, including Emmy-winning TV writer Rich Hawkins, made an effort to bring it into the 21st century. Some of the references to Siri, smart phones and Facebook work better than others.
But things pick up toward the end with interesting and moving messages about love. The second act’s ballads resolve the play’s conflicts better than earlier songs did. In the end, Lunchprovides audiences with some clever lines, a few good songs, a helping of good morals and a heck of a lot of talent.
‘Lunch’ runs at the Crocker Theater in Aptos through Jan. 19. $22-$42.