BWW Review: CAFE SOCIETY - An Almost Satisfying Coffee Break

CAFÉ SOCIETY/by Peter Lefcourt/directed by Terri Hanauer/ Odyssey Theatre/thru October 11, 2015

The world premiere of Emmy-winning writer Peter Lefcourt 's CAFÉ SOCIETY deserves credit for attempting a hostage situation as a satisfying sitcom dramedy. A frequent collaborator of Lefcourt, Terri Hanauer directs her game cast of seven in what seems a real-time ninety minutes of what would happen if a Starbucks in a Los Angeles neighborhood was held captive by a bomb-toting terrorist with his finger on its detonator. As would be expected, this Starbucks has a motley crew of disparate characters as customers one late morning.

So accustomed to hearing the Starbucks ambient soundtrack, barrister Darnell sings along with James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend." Donathan Walters succeeds in making his Darnell invisible except when service is needed, yet dispelling stereotypes when admitting he didn't drop out of high school, but Yale.

Budding screenwriter Jeff observes the human conditions inhabiting Starbucks to jumpstart his writer's block. Eric Wentz nails Jeff's "ladies' man" machismo and his character's tunnel-visioned screenwriter's view of transforming all real life, no matter how deadly, into a sell-able script. Jeff's current plotline he types into his laptop revolves around the homeless man at the next table dressed in disheveled drag as his oft-told stories involve his past reign as Anastasia of Russian nobility. Ian Patrick Williams gets the delightful opportunities to go from batty Russian lady to persecuted CEO in matters of seconds as the schizo Anastasia.

A lady of the evening turns out to be the always-auditioning actress Kari with many changes of costumes in her duffle bag for last-minute auditions. Later additions include Marilyn, a real estate broker on a blind first meet with a hook-up from (a website for dog owners to connect); the shortly-after arriving hook-up Bob; and the bowling bag carrying, soon-to-be-revealed-as-a-terrorist Martin.

Chandra lee Schwartz commands the stage as she inhabits Kari, the self-absorbed actress with the most off-the-wall, yet natural one-liners. Schwartz' Kari's the most amiable and charming customer of this Starbucks as she can talk to and empathize with each and every one of the other crazy patrons. Schwartz' simply bubbles over with Kari's enthusiasm at the sudden opportunities of possibly being interviewed on-camera, and, of course, anytime her agent phones her. We know it's Kari's agent calling as his ringtone "Over the Rainbow" sounds.

The persuasive Susan Diol manages to illicit empathy for her role as Marilyn, the striving-to-be-in-charge, yet still flirty businesswoman. You totally root for her when she denies she's actually the person later-arriving Bob was supposed to meet. Eric Myles Geller has all of Bob's smooth, uncouth qualities down pat.

Nick Cobey has the most challenging role in this group as the one-note, sullen, mad-at-corporate-America Martin. Martin (and Lefcourt) doesn't seem to think actions completely though once Martin takes these Starbucks customers as his hostages. And what's the explanation behind the non-action after Martin's finger off the detonator?

Kudos to Yee Eun Nam for her novel, innovative projection design utilizing the two huge menu boards as video screenshots of various text messages, incoming Caller IDs, web searches and TV news programs (by videographer Troy Hauschild). Hysterical fictionalized end-credits scroll on the menu boards just prior to the cast's curtain call.

On video, Kailyn Leilani beguiles as the on-camera reporter Kelly Kahanahana interviewing Gabriel Romero as the appropriately stiff and uncomfortable Captain Nunez of the attending SWAT team.

Nice change of pacing include the dueling phone conversations with two or three callers overlapping their responses. The recorded outgoing robot messages of Starbucks - very nice touch!

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From This Author Gil Kaan