Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Girl's Guide to Coffee

Cleveland playwright’s A GIRL’S GUIDE TO COFFEE delights at Actors’ Summit

Eric Coble, the author of A GIRL’S GUIDE TO COFFEE, which is getting its world premiere at Actors’ Summit, is on a roll. Next month his new play, VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, which will star Dorothy Silver, the grand dame of Cleveland theatre, will be performed at Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood.

Coble has the ability to take a minor incident and translate it into an amusing, yet meaningful theatrical experience. This is the case, again, with A GIRL’S GUIDE TO COFFEE.

In A GIRL’S GUIDE TO COFFEE, we find a java barista who’s trying to figure out her path in life. Twenty-two years old Alex has a degree in biology, seems happy without roots, and is wiling her time as the queen of lattes at the Steamed Bean. Her specialty is a “mandala,” which is a latte with a sacred Buddhist diagram created in the steamed milk. She can also do portraits and other images in this temporary art form. Temporary, as it is soon consumed and disappears.

She’s good, but, as she confides to the audience in one of her many talks to her listeners, she isn’t “as good as Lucy,” whoever that is. She’s good enough, however, that, according to Danny, her boss, one of her cups "brought one guy back from the dead.” She’s so good that Danny wants to enter her in the international barista competition in Barcelona, Spain.

In spite of the nagging by her parents, Alex’s plan for life is to have no plan at all. But into her life accidentally flows handsome, artist and some-time repairman, Christopher, who seems, in his subtle, and often bumbling way, to have other ideas for Alex’s existence.

Coble obviously has spent a lot of time hanging around coffee shops. His knowledge of the kinds and recipes for various drinks is amazing. In one long speech, Alex relates so many that it becomes overwhelming to realize that that many creations can be conceived by using one of the three types of beans available and some hot milk.

The play is filled with clever put downs of Starbucks (“the cockroach of the coffee world”), pointed criticism of consumerism, and the lack of clear focus in this text-addicted age.

The Actors’ Summit production, under the direction of Constance Thackaberry, is nicely paced, most of the characterizations well textured, and the clever lines correctly pointed for humor.

Pretty Margo Chervony is character right as Alex, the Barista Extraordinaire. She has a nice touch with humor, and interplays well the other characters. Rachel Gehlert, as Alex’s roommate and Barista Better-Than-Ordinaire, has some great comedy moments, as she gives obsession and hyperactivity, a new meaning. Frank Jackman is fun as the Owner of the Steamed Bean. Laura Stitt, as Alex’s Mother, does all those “mom” things that make her real. As Alex’s Father, Alex J. Nine, is fine in most scenes, but lacks the emotional presence needed for the segment when his wife’s life is in danger. Handsome Mark Leach displays the right degree of social uneasiness that adds a special quality to his Christopher, A Particular Customer, who seemingly is going to help Alex find a course of action for her life.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: A GIRL’S GUIDE TO COFFEE is a delightful evening of theatre that allows for a pleasant escape from the world of reality, adds knowledge to most people’s awareness of lattes, and showcases some pitfalls of life without a plan.