Shrinking Responsibilities

Have you ever seen a movie and knew immediately which year it was made? The film stock used, the actors' clothes and hairstyles, and even certain themes can be as blatant a clue as a time and date stamp flashing in the corner of a home video. Anyone who attends Heiress Productions's first show, Lunch Hour, will not see any braided hair or leisure suits to give away the show's 1980 birth date. Yet its focus is on psychiatrists, fad diets, and extramarital affairs, all hallmarks of its dramatic era. The show may have spoken to the audiences of its time—it originally ran for seven months on Broadway—but, seen through a 21st-century perspective, it comes across as a dated novelty.

While spending a week in their Hamptons vacation home, thirty-something married couple Oliver and Nora can't seem to get along. Nora leaves for a trip to her mother's so Oliver can finish working on his new book on relationships. (He's a marriage counselor.) But his tranquility is interrupted when young, neurotic Carrie knocks on his door.

Her puppy-dog neediness grates on Oliver's nerves, but gradually he warms to her, despite her revelation that Nora is carrying on an affair with Carrie's husband, the rich playboy Peter. Carrie suggests that she and Oliver pretend to have their own affair in order to make their significant others jealous. While such a pretense conflicts with Oliver's professional ethics, Carrie sees it as the only way to get the two marriages back in line. But which pairings really belong together?

The show's first act is dragged down by exposition and doesn't have enough at stake to give it any dramatic tension. Much is made of the fact that Nora's suspicions may be aroused by Carrie's presence in the house with Oliver. Yet Oliver is too asexual and Carrie too harmless to make anyone doubt their motives. It is only in the second act, when Carrie and Oliver start opening up to each other and we see Nora with Peter, that any of these characters reveal a softer side that would elicit any audience concern.

Scenic designer Josh Zangen's expansive, detailed set affords director Maura Farver lots of different spaces for her actors to use. Farver has Oliver doing a lot of cleanup and manipulating of the items onstage; this prop play lent Oliver an ownership of the home, which added to the naturalistic staging. The dual lighting designers (Joel E. Silver and Travis Richardson) effectively established the time of day throughout the show in the outside/inside lighting without dramatically noticeable, or scene-stealing, shifts.

While the acting came off as a little forced in the first act, the cast settled down enough by the end of the show to provide good performances. Morgan Baker, who doesn't appear until the second act, is appealingly smarmy as the lazy, acquisitive Peter. As Nora, Mary Willis White oozes privileged selfishness, which is tempered by her girlishly love-struck self when in Peter's company.

Jeff Pagliano's Oliver journeys from stressed yuppie doctor to something approaching a human being, finally showing he has feelings, although his attachment to Nora is not made clear. Laura Faith plays Carrie as a verbal-tic-less "Annie Hall" in skirts. While Carrie's pursuit of acting is a poor excuse for the theatrical way that writer Jean Kerr has crafted the character, the convention serves its purpose. Kerr does tone down Carrie's dizziness in the latter half of the play, allowing Faith to transition to "human being" as well.

The show's program notes that Heiress Productions was formed to "raise awareness and funds for cancer organizations" by staging shows. Lunch Hour was chosen as the premiere production because, in 1980, it marked the stage debut of Gilda Radner, who passed away nine years later after battling ovarian cancer. It's an interesting move for Heiress to dust off an old piece in the name of fund-raising. One hopes, however, that instead of continuing to revive the past, it might be inspired to produce new stories, or even recent ones, that deal directly with the disease. Wouldn't a play about cancer raise twice as much awareness?

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