Good to the last drop

Café Society

By Robert Simonson
Directed by Emily King
Thirteenth Street Repertory Company, Robert Simonson, and Emily King
50 West 13th Street (212/675-6677)
Non-union production (closes June 14)
Review by Elias Stimac

What do you do when the nice but needy counter girl at the coffee shop you frequent every day wants to become best friends? Grit your teeth and play along with it, if you don't want to go without that delicious iced decaf.

This is the humorous premise behind Robert Simonson's new comedy, Café Society. The playwright's script is just quirky enough, matched with the surrealistic staging by Emily King and the idiosyncratic acting from two separate casts, to make this a springtime cult hit.

Karen is a lowly program editor at Lincoln Center who doesn't know what she is getting herself into when she accepts a party invitation from Lucy, the daughter of a coffee-shop owner who makes all her friends while working the register. How these two end up as first "best friends" and later bitter enemies makes for a caustic and comical evening at the theatre.

Simonson has slyly worked in many references here to tickle viewers' funnybones, commenting on subjects as diverse as Burger King and Norman Mailer. Director King paced the show well, allowing for many uncomfortably funny pauses when the characters simply can't find words to express their exasperation. The sets, by Tom Harlan, were simple yet successfully defined the various locations, aided by Gavin Smith's lighting.

King's actors were perfectly cast in their offbeat roles. As Karen, Joan Ryan underplayed each moment, heightening the comic potential of each absurd situation her character encounters. Less able to keep her cool is Karen's friend Stacey, and Phyllis Sanfiorenzo offered some priceless reactions as the put-upon pal. Kristian Leavy, Jeremy Rosen, and Karen Rousso were hilarious as the other reluctant customers trapped by their dependence on coffee and pastries. Mikal Saint George gave a manic portrayal of an upper-class man named Roald Raldgold, who has a price (although not a very high price) on his head. Francis McWilliams (alternating with Greg Vorob) was his Secret Service bodyguard, who himself is a target for the affections of both Karen and Lucy. Peter Glismann portrayed Lucy's "baker extraordinaire" father, and Alberto Rey was solid in dual roles. Audrey Sawaya deserved special mention as the quietly unnerving Lucy, who causes everyone to reconsider whether their morning cup of joe is worth all the trouble.

King wisely chose to double-cast the play during its long run. Alternating with the members of "Cast Rouge" mentioned above, the "Cast Bleu" ensemble includes David Thomas Crowe, Traci Hovel, Cynthia klaja-McLaughlin, Darren C. Polito, Brad Lee Thomason, and Yvonne Wright.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Elias Stimac