Friday, April 28, 2006

Satire with side of ham in `Lunch'

by Terry Byrne

Presented by American Repertory Theatre and World Music/CRASH Arts at Zero Arrow Theatre, Cambridge, through Sunday.

Tom Cruise, Jessica Lynch, SpongeBob and Schrodinger's Cat all find their way into the hilarious and heady "(I am) Nobody's Lunch." The cabaret show ("That means there's no story," one performer helpfully explains), which is having its New England premiere at Zero Arrow Theatre, is delivered by the six-member Civilians, a talented troupe that combines the comic timing of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch with impressive vocals and sleek choreography.

In a delirious 90 minutes, the Civilians skewer our fascination with truth in trivia even as we blithely accept ridiculous lies on important issues. The show intercuts musical numbers with interviews the company did with a wild assortment of people - from a Homeland Security policymaker to an elderly Jewish woman, from a soldier guarding Grand Central Station with an unloaded gun to a teenager with body piercings in "super-secret places."

The result is an informational download that seems random yet has a surprisingly sharp focus. The pieces are held together by Michael Friedman's haunting music and lyrics, which range from the torchy ballad "Someone to Keep Me Warm" to the Kurt Weill-like "Watch Out Ladies." Lexy Friedell's chanteuse style makes Friedman's lyrics about wanting someone to "print and card her" ("I need to feel his power") sexy and scary at once. The company is equally effective in "It's Scary How Easy It Is."

The politics of this talented troupe is abundantly clear, but the way they present their material allows the audience to discover it in its own way. In the midst of the madness, they move a gym bag with a meowing cat zipped inside on and off the stage. It's time, they seem to say, to let the cat out of the bag.

Photograph: Leslie Lyons
From left, Matt Dellapina, Daoud Heidami and Brad Heberlee in "(I Am) Nobody's Lunch" at the 59E59 Theaters.