In Sarah Einspanier’s “Lunch Bunch,” the trim, compassionate comedy that opens Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks competition on the Wild Project, a gaggle of public defenders tries to do good, really feel good and eat nicely. Five of them have shaped Lunch Bunch, a membership during which members take turns cooking and packing “veggie/ healthy, friendly/ forward” meals for each other.
No peppers. Jacob (Ugo Chukwu) is allergic. And don’t even consider serving pretzels as a aspect 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 weak shoppers, these attorneys, who sit in ergonomic chairs going through a persimmon wall (Jean Kim did the set design), don’t have it straightforward. (Neither will we: Ms. Einspanier’s clipped strains embrace plenty of authorized jargon — ACS, DV, 1028s. Keep up!) The job doesn’t allocate for a private life; weekends are spent largely alone, with Netflix and possibly a cat.
The curried quinoa salads and barbecue jackfruit sandwiches are a type of compensation. At least till Tal (Eliza Bent) leaves for a visit to Paris, and Tuttle (Keilly McQuail) decides to undertake the restrictive Entire30 food plan, throwing the Lunch Bunch into chaos. Two new attorneys are recruited, Mitra (Nana Mensah) who’s a lunch bunch pure, and Nicole (Julia Sirna-Frest), who shouldn’t be. Her first try: blended nut butter and jelly on leftover pita bread.
If you realize 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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