Fall A&E Guide 2015: ‘Lunch at the Piccadilly’ makes its Charlotte debut

‘Poignant and unpredictable’ play tackles concepts of aging, support and community

Finding a supportive and healthy community in which to flourish is a fundamental human concern for people of all stripes at every age. Vulnerable segments of society are often required to work harder to find and maintain that sense of stability.

The musical comedy “Lunch at the Piccadilly” explores these themes with the residents of a nursing home who grow increasingly concerned with the changes they see occurring when it is sold to a local college. The play makes its Charlotte debut Sept. 17 at the Booth Playhouse.

It was written by two North Carolinians, author Clyde Edgerton and composer Mike Craver, and is based on Edgerton’s best-selling novel of the same name. Edgerton’s work was inspired by his experience putting his favorite aunt into a nursing home and regularly visiting and caring for her.

- - - advertisement - - -

The play is directed by Steve Umberger, founder and artistic director of Charlotte Repertory Theatre, in partnership with local retirement community Aldersgate.

“We’ve had a great time developing ‘Lunch at the Piccadilly’ all over the state, and it’s time for Charlotte to see it,” Umberger says. “It’s hilarious and poignant and unpredictable, all at the same time… (It has) been terrific working with Clyde and Mike on the script, which will be revised to include plenty of new material never seen before. And I’m also really looking forward to being back in the Booth Playhouse after being away for 10 years. It’s one of my favorite theaters.”

A story centered around a group of senior citizens on a nursing home porch may not at first blush seem like a thrilling entertainment choice for all audiences. Don’t be so quick to judge. Lying at the center of the play, says Umberger, are concepts of vitality, revolution and a sense of rebellion against being ignored and brushed aside by society. It may be a play about senior citizens, but they are not your typical senior citizens, and this is not the kind of story we are used to hearing about the elderly.

“There’s always a story behind the story. Like, ‘What is this really about?’ And that is what it’s really about,” Umberger says. “It’s about having ownership, real ownership, in your life, and control over your life, investment in your life, and fun in your life. And that’s something that everyone responds to.”

He also attributes some of the play’s success with it coming along at the right time, speaking to issues that are of increasing importance and visibility as the baby boomers reach retirement age and beyond, and as people are living longer than ever.

“Everybody in some way is dealing with it,” Umberger maintains. “It’s really about acknowledging the number of baby boomers (who are aging), and (other) people who are aging; caregivers, care-getters, Medicare, Medicaid — all these things that are in the news daily. More and more people are concerned with it, (people are saying that) there need to be more solutions; living solutions, care solutions, all of that (is) becoming quite an issue. And the 90-plus crowd is the fastest growing segment of the population these days.”

The emotional element of getting older is also universal.

The fear of aging, of seeming irrelevant to a culture that has in recent decades become obsessed with youth culture, and to a large extent with flash over substance, is a common concern.

- - - advertisement - - -

Umberger remembers first seeing children and teenagers going in to see “Lunch at the Piccadilly” and wondering about how they would react to the show. He says he was somewhat surprised at how much they enjoyed it.

“I think it’s because they didn’t really expect to see their grandparents ‘boogeying.’ That’s not what’s typically represented. So it’s fun for them to see it,” he says.

While the play is not written from the LGBT perspective, or with LGBT issues directly in mind, the concepts align more than one might expect. The struggle for identity, community, and the ability to see yourself as a valuable member of society well into your graying years is something that perhaps resonates particularly strongly for LGBT people.

Works like “Lunch at the Piccadilly” ask us to connect with something deeper and more fundamentally human, while at the same time providing plenty of laughs. It is a delicate balance not easily achieved.

As Umberger says, “Farce only works if you’re really deadly serious about it. You really have to find that frequency.”

“Lunch at the Piccadilly” runs through Oct. 4. Tickets range from $10 to $42. Learn more and purchase tickets online at lunchatthepiccadilly.com. : :

- - - advertisement - - -

Posted by Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.