Peter Lefcourt skewers Hollywood deal-making—brilliantly—in La Ronde De Lunch, the funniest show you’re likely to see this fall and one of the most terrifically performed comedies of this or any season.

Lefcourt, whose Hollywood satires include the novel The Deal and the Showtime series Beggars And Choosers, knows Tinseltown better than just about anyone else.  Here he takes Arthur Schnitzler’s sexual roundelay La Ronde and turns it into a series of “Let’s do lunch” meetings in pursuit of that ever illusive DEAL.  Actress lunches with Producer, who then lunches with Studio Exec, who then lunches with Agent, until La Ronde is complete and the deal of deals has been made.

In just the past eleven months I’ve reviewed productions of a) Schnitzler’s original (with two actors performing all ten roles), b) Michael John LaChiusa’s musicalization Hello, Again, and c) Joe DiPietro’s all-male La Ronde, retitled F*cking Men. Unlike b) and c), La Ronde De Lunch keeps most of its cast onstage from beginning to end, playing musical chairs at L.A.’s “most pretentious and expensive restaurant, El Pueblo De La Venezia, specializing in neo-Italian/Santa Fe fusion cuisine”—and when I say musical chairs, I mean musical chairs. Each between-scene interlude features the restaurant’s five waiters (all named Bruce) and assorted cast members cavorting to Tracy Silver’s bouncy choreography which includes a gavotte, some disco, a bit of funk, cha cha, jitterbug, and even a Bottle Dance (a la Fiddler On The Roof).

The five Bruces (Daniel Montgomery, Demetrius Keone Thomas, Amanda Kruger, Matt Austin, and Clent Bowers) serve as a kind of Greek chorus to the onstage deal-making, though thankfully they promise us not to speak “in a low, monotonous, funereal hum.” No, these Bruces are “vibrant, lusty, and gay and never do funereal,” thank you very much.

And now for a brief taste of each lunch:

Lunch # 1: The Actress (Kathryn Harrold) and The Producer (Michael Silver)
Like everyone else we’re about to meet, glamorous screen legend Gwen Labido is lunching with A Deal in mind. Hers is to star in The Producer’s next picture opposite Superstar Du Jour Clive (no last name needed; the guy gets 22.5 per picture).  Unfortunately, The Actress has seen better days.  (“They’re not even sending me the bad scripts anymore.”)  She’s just come from firing her agent after calling him a “fuckhead,” news that will soon have all of Hollywood buzzing. 

Lunch # 2: The Producer and The Studio Exec (Kate Siegel)
This Studio Exec is about as pregnant as a woman can be, but no natural birth for our expectant mother.  “Apparently my vagina is different from all other vaginas,” she announces. As for the script The Producer is plugging to her, The Exec is sorry but it’s “dead in the water. The train has left the station.  Wave goodbye. Next.” It turns out the studio’s been bought by Canadians and they don’t like movies set in Pittsburg.

Lunch # 3: The Studio Exec and The Agent (Joe Briggs)
The Studio Exec’s got a project that Clive will love. Sorry, replies the Agent, “Everyone’s got a project that Clive’s going to love.”  Maybe so, concedes The Exec, but are they anywhere near as good as Moonlight Cantata, a contemporary love story about a couple who both have cerebral palsy?  Sorry, Pregnant Exec, but this deal is dead in the water. And speaking of water…

Lunch # 4: The Agent and The Realtor (Gina Hecht)
The Agent has decided to invest in a house in the hills above Sunset.  That’ll cost two million easy, The Realtor informs him, unless of course he wants to go over Mulholland.  “You mean the Valley?” exclaims The Agent in horror at the thought of an 818 area code. What if The Agent gave the Realtor some top secret info about an upcoming Hollywood divorce that might just put the house of both their dreams on the market—for way under two mil?

Lunch # 5: The Realtor and The Writer (Brynn Thayer)
The Realtor tries kissing up to The Writer by recalling her favorite scene in The Writer’s last movie. Bad move.  It turns out that scene was written by the “hack” they brought in after her to write “that gratuitous piece-of-shit scene.” The alcoholic Writer has good reason to drink heavily these days.  Her piece-of-shit husband is trying to make their divorce difficult, but if The Writer has her way, hubby “will be lucky if we let him keep the shirt on his back.”  

Lunch # 6: The Writer and The Personal Fitness Consultant (Haley Strode)
The Personal Fitness Consultant is worried about The Writer’s diet.  “What about minerals?  What about kelp?  You need to start thinking about your amino acids as well.”  The Personal Fitness Consultant’s concern is not just professional. It turns out that she’s considerably more than just a Personal Fitness Consultant to the Writer, though not for much longer if Miss Fitness has her way.  “But we did drugs in a hot tub!” protests The Writer.  “Our souls touched the stars.”

Lunch # 7: The Personal Fitness Consultant and The Lawyer (Robert Trebor)
The Personal Fitness Consultant has come to The Lawyer with a hypothetical question (i.e. she doesn’t want to be billed). She wants to know if she can get anything out of the sale of the soon-to-be-divorced Writer’s house.  “How long did your relationship last,” asks The Lawyer.  “Was there penetration?”  “Six weeks,” responds The Personal Fitness Consultant, and so what if they’re both women?  “There was plenty of penetration.”

Lunch # 8: The Lawyer and The Bimbo (Fiona Gubelmann)
It’s a lunch hour blind date for The Lawyer and The Bimbo, though this Bimbo only looks bimboesque. An honest-to-goodness Bimbo wouldn’t have an M.A. in Romance Languages from an online university, would she? Now if only The Bimbo knew how to pronounce the multisyllabic French words (and names like Kierkegaard) that she’s seen in her online lessons.

Lunch # 9: The Bimbo and Clive (Jay Huguley)
The Bimbo’s won a “Lunch With Clive” contest, which means that we finally get to see the only character who’s remained offstage so far.  Taking a seat opposite The Bimbo, Clive reveals his next film project: an adaptation of Ecclesiastes.  (It’s from The Bible … and it’s public domain!)  “But nothing much happens,” protests The Bimbo.  “It’s just a bunch of lamentations!”  No, replies Clive, it’s much more than that, and if he could just make the apothecary into a woman—and get a Bette Davis type to play the role …  

Lunch # 10:  Clive and The Actress
Clive informs The Actress that calling her agent a fuckhead was “pure Bette Davis.”  Donning a napkin headdress, the superstar describes the first scene in his Ecclesiastes movie (think of it as “a sort of Odyssey across Judea”), then discusses the character he has in mind for The Actress: a ballsy widow trying to make ends meet on a pomegranate farm.  All would seem to be going according to plan until the actress gets a phone call which changes everything and brings La Ronde De Lunch full cycle.

Under Terri Hanauer’s inspired direction, the entire cast give colorful, memorable performances, making these not so sympathetic characters surprisingly likeable (though not perhaps if we had to deal with them in real life). As The Actress, Harrold is every bit as beautiful as she was playing Lauren Bacall in the 1980 TV movie Bogie, and a heck of an actress to boot. Producer Silver gets to throw a delicious tantrum—which he does, deliciously.  Siegel is so movie star gorgeous that it’s a pleasant surprise to discover what a deft comedienne she is. Full-of-himself Agent Briggs’ imitation of the sound his Mercedes is making is almost worth the price of a ticket, as is the sight of him licking his upper lip in an attempt to seduce the Exec.  (Briggs also gets quite possibly the biggest laugh ever from a much-told Celine Dion joke.) Hecht too is a hoot as The Realtor, who can’t help crying when recalling a scene from The Writer’s last movie, and whose excitement level builds steadily the closer she comes to acquiring The Writer’s house.

Thayer gets possibly the best of all ten roles as The Writer, becoming increasingly drunk as her two lunches progress, and she milks every possible laugh from her character’s heavy imbibing, so heavy in fact that a half-gallon bottle of Stoli is her “dressing on the side.”  Thayer’s also got a great bit involving that bottle of Stoli, a small bottle of drinking water, and a lime or two.  Strode is delectably perky as The Personal Fitness Consultant who can’t stop stretching even during lunch. It’s great fun to watch Trebor’s Lawyer pepper The Fitness Consultant with questions, as if he were cross-examining a witness, and later to see his face crumble as he realizes that his sex date with The Bimbo isn’t going to happen. Gubelmann underplays The Bimbo to perfection, especially as she rattles off four-syllable words, blithely unaware of how she’s massacring them.  As Clive, Huguley is every full-of-himself actor that has ever entered a Hollywood eatery, and the British accent is icing on the conceited cake.

And then there are the Bruces, Montgomery’s sassy Bruce #1, Thomas’ cheeky (in more ways than one) Bruce #2, Kruger’s adorable Bruce #3, Austin’s sweetly hunky Bruce #4, and Bowers’ divalicious Bruce #5.  All five are terrifically talented triple-threats, whom Lefcourt’s script, Silver’s choreography, and Hanauer’s direction show off to their best advantage.  (Bowers gets applause for holding a note longer than humanly possible in a bit which also involves a bunch of breadsticks.)

The playwright has filled his script with one-liners galore. Here are just a few:

•The Producer: What’s the restaurant’s policy on under-the-table blow jobs?
Bruce # 1: We charge a small corkage fee.

•The Writer (describing the butt lift her spouse got last year): He came back home looking like Donald Duck.

•Clive (to The Actress): I’ve IMDB’d you and there’s nothing on your résumé with a 2 in front of it. You’re not on the A-list.  You’re not even on Craig’slist.

Set and lighting designer Jeff McLaughlin has transformed the Skylight Theatre into just the kind of trendy restaurant that any Hollywood celeb would be happy to lunch at. Shon LeBlanc’s perfectly chosen costumes and the uncredited sound and music design are first-rate as well.

You don’t have to be an Hollywood insider to love La Ronde De Lunch, though there couldn’t be a better town for it to be staged in than this one.  The show’s been extended up into December, and has the potential of being both a popular (and a cult) hit.  You won’t find a tastier treat in any L.A. theater between now and who-knows-when.  Order your tickets before they sell out.  Hollywood’s going to be buzzing about La Ronde De Lunch. It probably is already.

The Skylight Theatre, 1816 Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
November 13, 2009
                                                                         Photos: Ed Krieger

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