When I arrived at the basement level of the Booth Theater this past Sunday, an hour before showtime, the scene was almost as bleak as the blustery winter day outdoors. In one corner, a television was blaring the Giants-Eagles game, in which the home team was losing. And in the middle of the room, the table reserved for the cast and crew's potluck meal had only some cheese, luncheon meat, and bagels.
This gathering, however, which was not only a regular Sunday brunch but a Christmas tree-trimming of sorts, adhered to the logic of most parties: one minute, just the quiet murmur or two from the guest-who-always-arrives-early; the next, the crush of arrivals that takes the place to high-decibel levels.
Cast and crew had been asked to bring something for a charity toy drive and something for the Christmas tree and, if they were culinarily inclined, something for the table. Person after person dropped stuffed animals and related cute gifts into the toy box, and then added their ornaments to the tree. While all the contributions were welcome, my favorites were provided by cast member Penny Fuller and standbys Jennifer Harmon and Jill Tanner.
Fuller's ornament spelled out "Joy." "It relates to my character, Lucille," Fuller said. "Her sister, Mary Jo, says that Lucille 'always takes the joy out of everything.' So this is my attempt to restore it."
Harmon and Tanner had strung together cranberries and popcorn for the tree. "Some people knit backstage," Harmon said. "We sew."
As the trimming progressed, so did the eating. The early-brunch basics were gradually filled out by fancier fare. Cast member Maggie Lacey brought pumpkin bread, miraculously still warm despite its trip from her apartment through the cold and to the theater. "Foil helps," Lacey remarked. Production assistant Marisa Levy was represented by a frittata. "All the food here is good, but you can't but feel a little competitive," she said. Her dish disappeared with warp speed.
The salads were especially plentiful, and especially of interest to cast member Hallie Foote, who virtuously confined herself to them. The rest of the assembled were not quite as abstemious. By the time half-hour-to-curtain was called by production stage manager Roy Harris (who helped establish Broadway's Sunday-brunch tradition years ago, and who here contributed a delicious six-bean salad), many members of the company had scarfed down one of the Beard Papa's cream puffs that Fuller had provided.
And as I left I noticed that even the display of holiday-frosted cupcakes baked by wardrobe supervisor Moira MacGregor-Conrad and her sister Fiona was dwindling. Her display was so artfully assembled on a lazy susan that at first no one wanted to violate the shape by grabbing a cake. But appetite eventually won out -- as it usually does.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com