Clueless in Gaza

Lunch at Armageddon

By Richard Lay
Directed by Simcha Borenstein
Sage Theatre Company
Blue Heron Arts Center
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Michael D. Jackson

Richard Lay’s Lunch at Armageddon is a candidate for the most implausible us new drama seen in New York. The plot concerns young Brad (J. Garrett Glaser), who is on a group expedition to retrace the steps of Jesus before he enters the priesthood. Brad escapes his travel group to find a beer at a cafe overlooking Armageddon and meets a young Palestinian woman, Leila (Erin Kate Howard), who claims to be studying Islamic history. The two hit it off, and a whirlwind romance is launched. That same day at the cafe, they meet an aging female Hollywood mogul, Poppy (Arlene Love), who is in Israel to make arrangements for an on-location epic about Armageddon. She is assisted by her right-hand man, Peter (Pierre O’Farrell). Poppy takes an instant liking to the new young couple and decides that with their historical knowledge of Armageddon, they should have the job of writing the screenplay for her epic. How can the pair refuse? Poppy has offered these unknowns five million dollars to deliver the script before director Martin Scorsese backs out of the project! Would Martin Scorsese agree to directing this epic without a script in the first place? Is Poppy just wacko and the entire project a figment of her imagination? Nope, turns out it’s all true and the young pair work through their cultural differences with love on their side as they complete a script for Poppy.

Along the way, ludicrous plot points are revealed on top of a general disregard for how an actual Hollywood producer would negotiate through the making of a 150-million-dollar film. Why it’s “just like falling off a log” to be a producer, as one character states. To muddy up the story a bit more, Poppy is seen in flashback scenes with her late husband Sam (Steve Kasparazak), as his dying wish he makes her promise him that she will make an epic about Armageddon. These scenes could have been dropped entirely, as the information in them was given elsewhere in the script. There was also a ridiculous attempt to hide Poppy’s age by dressing her in oversized hats and staging her with her back to the audience.

Glaser and Howard as the young lovers turned in respectable performances and even handled the most outlandish scenes with dignity. O’Farrell and Kasprazak gave honest and believable performances in spite of an absolutely deadly performance by Arlene Love as Poppy. Love’s every entrance into the scene slowed the pace, lacked any sense of a woman of Hollywood power, and failed to make an otherwise colorful character come to life. Though it may not have mattered if even Elizabeth Taylor had been cast as Poppy, for the play was so beyond salvaging that the most ideal actors and director could not have made it work without sending Lay back to the drawing board. Lay has a play in the two young people from diverse backgrounds meeting and falling in love in an unlikely place, but the intrusion of the impossible Hollywood story destroys what might have been a very good idea.

It wasn’t until the final scene that costume designer Ashley Luff dressed Poppy in an outfit befitting her stature. Until then she was dressed in a variety of

shorts and t-shirts, looking like she was on a camping trip in Yosemite rather than a guest at the best hotel. Otherwise, the rest of the cast was appropriately dressed throughout. Alan Kanevsky’s lighting was basic, but made clean distinction between separate scenes sharing the same space. No one was

given credit for the set, which was only functional, but the black traveler was drawn for the final scene to reveal a conference room.  In this simple way, a stark contrast between the worlds of New York and Israel was created to good effect.

Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2005 Michael D. Jackson