I wouldn't necessarily associate the titular "gourmet," which implies "high-quality" or "fancy," with the script for the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's 100 Lunches: A Gourmet Comedy. But the production is entertaining beyond its thin plot, the two-dimensional characters and situations are at least interesting enough to warrant continued attention, and although this is yet another play that could end at intermission and still leave audiences satisfied, the second act - despite boasting a wholly dissimilar tone - proves just as appealing as the first.
Written by Leo Sears and Jack Sharkey, 100 Lunches starts the morning after the opening night of the latest murder mystery by playwright Charlton Reynolds (Nathan Johnson). As usual, theatre reviewer Charity Starr (Cindy Ramos) gives Charlton's play a scathing review. This time, however, she also shows up at the author's door, asking for help in writing a play of her own - one that will prove to the world that murder mysteries can have characters who actually seem human. Charlton agrees if they can meet over the course of 100 lunches in which she foots the bill, and Charity ends up experiencing what it's like to be reviewed herself after her play is produced. (I should mention that this gives nothing away regarding the play's climax, which concerns another matter entirely.)
Director Joseph R. DePauw handles the more comedic scenes well but neglects the romantic part of what's billed as a romantic comedy. Through their time spent together over those 100 lunches, Charlton and Charity fall in love, but during the multiple scenes at various restaurants, there's no evidence of that growth in their relationship. Charlton's housekeeper Glinda (Terri Nelson) and his son Terry (Jack Sellers) talk about their budding romance, but it isn't apparent in the performances of Johnson and Ramos until the second act, and the romance would have benefited from a more gradual progression.
Still, that's the only significant issue I had with 100 Lunches, which was otherwise well worth the two-hours-plus I invested in Thursday's performance. Johnson brings a welcome sincerity to his dialogue that I hadn't yet heard in any of his previous Richmond Hill performances; his realistic inflections give us the sense that he's coming up with his words on the spot rather than merely regurgitating lines. And Ramos notably balances a pompous air with intelligence and heart, her bright personality matching the nearly glowing pink satin of the skirt suit Charity wears at the show's start (one of many gorgeous ensembles given to her by costume designers Suzanne DeReu and Jean Melillo). Together, the actors share a chemistry that aids our interest in their relationship - be it romantic or not - and their lunch meetings.
The comically adept Sellers, who is in the fifth grade, shows off a dry wit tinged with smile-inducing sarcasm and amusingly over-dramatic inflections and gestures, while Nelson adds just the right amount of charm to her wise maid; it's a performance to be proud of. Don Hazen deserves his own round of applause for portraying the seven waiters depicted in a sampling of Charlton's and Charity's 100 lunches. Each one is impressively different - be it through Italian, Mexican, or Indian accents or pompous, gruff, or hick-ish demeanor - and earned Hazen most of Thurdsay's largest laughs.
Jackie Patterson is also a treat as Charlton's animated neighbor Yolanda, and gets to showcase the costume designers' finest period ensembles, among them an outfit that found her wearing 1980s-style yellow hoop earrings, a stone-washed denim jacket, a bright green button-up shirt over a pink polo, and leggings. While 100 Lunches: A Gourmet Comedy will not be remembered as one of my favorite comedies, I will very likely remember Richmond Hill's charming and funny presentation of it.
100 Lunches: A Gormet Comedy runs at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (600 Robinson Drive, Geneseo) through June 16, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)944-2244 or visiting RHPlayers.com.