Chicago Theatre Review
Just the Right Amount of Foam
Naperville – Theatre Wit
Set in a meticulously detailed replica of a Caribou Coffee cafe, crafted by talented scenic designer Joe Schermoly, five individuals meet, talk, argue, reconcile and finally become a kind of extended family in Mat Smart’s Chicago premiere. The franchise’s perky motto is “Life is short; stay awake for it,” which could also be the theme of this play. The quintet take turns telling their stories, eventually admitting their fears, ambitions and dreams. And while the comedy could take place in any suburban cafe in America, it’s specific to Smart’s titular hometown, a suburb the playwright knows quite well. Filled with local references, both historical and geographical, Mat Smart (Jeff Award-winner for his new play, “The Royal Society of Antarctica”) has crafted another slice of life comedy that features elements of individual drama. In between cups of expresso, latte, cappuccino and other scrupulously prepared caffeinated beverages, all prepared by head barista, TC, the hours pass by and relationships are forged.
In Jeremy Wechsler’s sensitive, carefully guided production, he’s made wonderful use of Schermoly’s all-inclusive setting, perfectly accented by Amanda Herrmann’s properties and set dressing. The director stages his actors in every nook and cranny of a room that features a stone fireplace, a mezzanine level of tables and chairs, a wall of windows with operational shades and a restroom that surprisingly opens up to reveal the porcelain necessaries. Mr. Wechsler has evoked such honest, emotionally wrought performances from his five actors that he makes every theatergoer feel like a fly on the wall. In addition to Schermoly’s realistic scenic design, Alexander Ridgers has enhanced this stage picture with his beautifully designed and delicately executed lighting. Ridgers’ subtle artistry evolves the illumination, from early morning through late night, with all the nuances in between. And, not to be overlooked, Ethan Deppe has created a soundtrack that’s every bit as detailed as what is seen. Unfortunately, the only detail missing from this production is the warm, evocative fragrance of brewing coffee.
With dignity and drive, Laura T. Fisher plays Candice, a middle-aged mother who’s recently suffered an accident that’s left her blind. She’s a very proud and independent woman who’s not used to relying on the kindness of strangers, least of all her own son, Howie. Howard, played with empathy and evenhandedness by Mike Tepeli, has flown from his west coast home, taking a leave from work, in order to assist his mother with her new challenge. While at Candice’s favorite haunt, Howard is reunited with Anne, a former high school classmate and secret crush, who volunteers at the Naper Settlement, a local outdoor history museum. Throughout the day, Anne reluctantly reveals bits and pieces about herself, resulting in some shocking and unexpected details about her own unfulfilled life.
Roy is the idealistic minister who’s befriended Candice and, to Howard, seems far too good to be true. As played by Charlie Strater, Roy raises red flags for Howard, certain that, somehow, the pastor must have his own hidden agenda that may include taking unfair advantage of his mother. Andrew Jessop is stellar as TC, the newly appointed manager of this Caribou Coffee, a diligent, devoted employee who tirelessly percolates cappuccinos for Candice that will sport just the right amount of foam, even if it takes all day. TC wants only to follow rules to the letter, to be the best barista possible and to make everyone around him comfortable and satisfied. Jessop’s skill at playing the clarinet smoothly figures into this production, as the young actor fervently serenades his customers during their late night after-hour meditation.
This new play is a heartfelt look at a disparate group of individuals who, after a day of debating, finally realize how much alike they really are in the end. It’s a refreshingly positive slice-of-life comic drama. It’s about the quiet places and the tender moments. With honesty and empathy, Jeremy Wechsler guides his talented cast in exploring the insecurities and dreams that are in every person. As in some of his other plays, Mat Smart creates a microcosm of society housed within the comfy confines of America’s most revered contemporary institution: the coffee house. In this gallant production, it’s the people, as well as the cappuccino, who demand just the right right amount of foam.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 6-October 16 by Theater Wit, 1229 N. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-975-8150 or by going to www.TheaterWit.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.