Brunch at the Luthers
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
June 20, 2008
This play (or, rather, eight plays) is so much fun! And don't worry, though there are eight plays featuring the most Dada fun you could want, the evening runs just over an hour and ten minutes.
Dada was an art/theatre/literary movement that began in Switzerland during the end of World War I. Dada attacked the culture of the time by producing works that were nonsensical and absurd. That was pretty much all I knew about Dada before I saw this show. What I didn't know was how much fun Dada can be. It points out the hypocrisy and chaos of modern life not in a super-serious, alienating way, but by being playful and engaging.
The performance begins with Sweet Noise—A Quartet for Words & Sounds, in which four performers make a concert out of phrases like "hard boiled cow" and "tickle tickle ickle tickle." Six more very short, very humorous, very ridiculous one-to-three minute Dada plays follow. In Autumn, actor Mort Kroos stands cross-eyed, staring at the imaginary fly on his nose, talking to it and us. Several others relate, in one way or another, to ducks.
After watching these seven very short plays, which ease us into the Dada aesthetic, and after learning as an audience that is indeed okay to laugh, the main feature, Brunch at the Luthers, begins. Luther and his wife, Ruth, are an elderly couple who are preparing to have guests over for brunch. However, there is a big problem right off the bat: the fifth soup spoon is missing! Also, Luther has not told his wife that an erotic dancer of undetermined gender, Harlot Sierra O'Toul, will be joining them. Then the guests arrive. The endearingly doofy Chef Luzé is the first, and we soon learn that he and Ruth are something of an item, which manifests itself in a weird, demented little dance they do whenever they are alone. Then comes Mansfield, who, despite being called a Congressman, is indeed a woman and the aunt of Harlot Sierra O'Toul.
After a hysterical brunch of feathers and rubber duckies, things start to get weird. "Quack" starts to replace words in sentences, with increasing frequency, as the unaffected, baffled Luther starts to get more and more uneasy. While the humor never stops, we do start to see the messages of this play. Some of the thoughts i took away: how easily something—be it throwing a brunch or electing a president—can get out of control and not go as planned; the perils of the breakdown of communication; how important it is to be an individual and not succumb to mob mentality; how little control we have over society; that perhaps there isn't such a clear line between sanity and insanity; and the ultimate solitariness of man.
Brunch at the Luthers serves as a terrific vehicle for nine performers (including writer/director Misha Shulman). The casting is non-traditional; these are really fun, diverse character actors getting to do their shtick. Priscilla Flores's "erotic" dance as Harlot is both hilarious and terrifying; she seems to be possessed by a killer gremlin. Kroos is highly loveable as Luther and you just want to hug Robert Hieger as Chef Luzé. Shulman's writing and direction is simultaneously smart and funny.
What I love best, however, is how accessible this was. Nonsense is being said, but we are part of the nonsense and part of the joke and, as a result, the punch at the end is very potent. This is theatre that isn't being done at the expense of the audience but completely for it.