Waiter, waiter, percolator

Java Jive

by Henry Meyerson
Directed by Charles Armesto
Mitzfah Productions
Midtown International Theatre Festival
Pantheon Theater, 303 West 42nd St.
Ticket Central, 416 W. 42nd St. (279-4200) 1-8 pm; or culturefinder.com
Equity showcase (closes August 26)
Review by David Mackler

Coffee isn't the subject of Henry Meyerson's Java Jive, but it is an understated (if ubiquitous) presence, as all of the action takes place in a Starbucks/Timothy's/New World coffeehouse. After all, where people gather, there is conflict, and theater. An audience of one is sufficient, and boy, do some of these coffee-drinking characters perform.

The first play is told in fragments, with the story acted out in progressive segments between the other plays. Jeff Riebe and Christina Purcell set the tone nicely, with their point of contention being whether (as she maintains) he is still in love with her despite their having broken up. She's right, and with that knowledge comes power.

In the next play, we meet Carmen, a loud, brash, trashy woman, delightfully played by Lisa Bayer. She is very wired, and proceeds to overwhelm Allen (Chris Romero), a nerdy type who has been sitting and waiting in the coffeehouse for someone to change his life - and here she is. He is willing to put up with (he's even turned on by) her attitude and weirdness but that, in turn, makes him too abnormal even for her.

Then there's George (Riebe) and Martha (Bayer), whose progenitors are clearly the same-named couple from Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Their public argument about getting a divorce is loud and raucous, and a matter of great excitement for one of them. It's a one-joke play that expires, so to speak, at its punchline.

The next antagonists, Paul (Riebe) and Michael (Romero), are less involved in that kind of game-playing, but since they have been coming to the coffeehouse once a week for years they have a relationship comparable to many marriages. But now there's a shift in the dynamic (with age and Viagra being matters under discussion), and roles change. Perhaps the asshole isn't always who it seems to be.

The weirdest bunch, though, have just come back from a funeral, and family truths come flooding out. The outrageousness is probably meant to be satirical, but even the best efforts of Bayer, Riebe, Purcell, and Romero didn't amount to much. What does work comes next, with Purcell's over-the-top performance as a woman enthralled by what caffeine has done for her - made even funnier since she doesn't realize the effect it is having on others who are trying to kick their own addiction to it. This too is a one-joke play, but Purcell wrung every bit of juice from it.

And finally, the fragmented story comes full circle, to a not entirely surprising ending. Parceling this play out over the whole evening is one of the production's best ideas, but it also points up what Java Jive could have been. Director Charles Armesto occasionally kept other characters on stage when another play had begun, and there was the opportunity to interrelate the stories, giving needed depth. When loud-mouthed Carmen showed up as a waitress near the end, hopes were raised, but nothing came of them. This jive isn't the kind referred to in the well-known song (which was used throughout to little effect), but another kind entirely.
Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Set: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 David Mackler