“Lunch with Mrs. Baskin” is a Comic Discovery Making Its Capital Region Premiere at Lake George Dinner Theatre
Artistic Director Jarel Davidow has pulled off a pretty terrific magic trick in producing and directing the Capital Region premiere of “Lunch with Mrs. Baskin.” He has found a delightful romantic comedy yet to be produced in the area and played it to a packed house on Saturday night that laughed heartily throughout and gave a vigorous standing ovation with a play that doesn’t ignore economic disparities but embraces them.
Mrs. Eva Baskin (the delightful Camille West Wodicka) is a lonely widow in a Chicago high rise who answers unsolicited sales calls and junk mail so she can make appointments with salespeople selling products that she can’t possibly be interested in. No, she just wants to coach them on their sales pitches and feed them lunches of cucumber and egg salad sandwiches and her special recipe ice tea made with maple syrup instead of sugar. “it’s like drinking pancakes.” As the play opens, is garage door salesman Terry Winters (droll Tom Patterson) mystified why he’s there? “Not only does this building not have a garage but I don’t have a car. I’m afraid you have your work cut out for you.” She considers it her mission to help salespeople. “I’m pretty sure no one starts out in life wanting to be a garage door salesman.”
The second scene opens after a nice acoustic Beatles cover which will accompany the set changes with Kira Haskell (local favorite Beth Pietrangelo), a solar panel sales rep, wailing into a mountain of tissues. Don’t worry Mrs. Baskin has 20 more boxes, she shops at Costco. Kira has discovered that her fiancée has been cheating on her. When Terry shows up Mrs. Baskin immediately contrives to set the young people up. Added to the mix are Kira’s Republican father (Osborn Focht) who owns 8 banks, “She doesn’t approve of what I do with my money. I keep it.” And one of Mrs. Baskin’s favorite superstar salesmen, the decorative driveway pitch man Wendell Sash (the winning Devin Funnye) who scores with the mantra “awesome, elegant, matching, red brick, circular driveway.”
This play moves quite spritely and has huge laughs throughout but has an especially winning first act. Mrs. Baskin in Ms. Wodicka’s performance can be slightly dotty, terribly sweet but never cloying and she’s helped enormously by the playwright giving her surprisingly foul-mouthed assessments of Kira’s ex. Tom Patterson as Terry with his hilarious underplaying and flummoxed, deadpan reactions to how this whack job sales call works on him are priceless. Beth Pietrangelo is a lot of fun weeping uncontrollable or doubled over in paroxysms of silent keening. She is invaluable and effortlessly inspires Terry’s heartfelt devotion. Osborn Focht as her father is all splenetic bluster and pride at building his self-made success with the $200,000. he borrowed from his parents. Devin Funnye has a terrific motivational speech of turning love into your fuel to reach your goals and “kick some ass.”
Andrea Nice does her usual terrific job in any space assigned to her and creates a senior apartment with 40 feet of wall and living room furniture lit well by Rachel Budin. Another magic trick is creating these transporting environments out of a hotel dining room which LGDT has managed with great success. Saratoga’s man of the theater, JJ Buechner created the costumes and defines each character with their looks (Kira’s florals, Eva’s brooch…) simply and attractively. Jarel Davidow has orchestrated all and conjured up a most entertaining evening of comedy that tickles but never condescends or stoops for the cheap laugh. It’s a smart, human, compassionate story about those who get ahead and what can be salvaged by those left behind.
Mrs. Baskin observes Terry as “an extremely uncomfortable salesperson and an extremely caring person which is probably why he’s an uncomfortable salesperson.” I wish there were more Mrs. Baskins.