Amy Eller Lewis
A couple in Milwaukee and a couple in a European castle each get the same urgent telephone call and instructions: To take a mysterious box to the Café Mimosa on an unnamed tropical island, and through specific directions exchange the boxes. They have been chosen-The fate of Humanity is in their hands.
This is the premise of Oana Maria Cajal's Exchange at Café Mimosa, but there it is a deceptively simple story. The real story seems to lie in the patrons of the café, the ferocious cast of characters: A "symbolist with allergies", an almost silent passionate couple, a Japanese man than no one can understand, a spoiled child and his aunt, and The Native: in an elaborate aboriginal headdress and a suit. He knows everything: he will tell you about making buttonholes, the habits of animals and cannibals alike.
But the star of the show is Casey Seymour Kim as The Parrot, and a reluctant parrot at that. A tough old bird, an aging curmudgeon, she swings on a perch in a formal dress and hat, repeating everything that's said in the cafe. She finds the whole thing sad and quite tedious. But she is what binds Café Mimosa together; she forces them to lean close and whisper so she cannot hear, she brings them closer. Kim's performance is breathtaking, by turns funny and poignant; she grips us in her hand for one of the play's most important and difficult scenes.
Jeremy Woodward has created a set that opens and closes like the iris of an eye, like a pinhole camera. Many scenes are in a kind of split-screen, giving this piece a cinematic quality-Allowing us to follow the director's gaze. Then when the whole thing finally opens up to the Café Mimosa in all its tropical brilliance, we are breathless (and a little relieved).
"Exchange at Café Mimosa" is part espionage/thriller, part farce and part absurdist play --- Equal parts Dashiell Hammett and Samuel Beckett. It manages the right amount of silliness, and stays away from taking itself too seriously. The parts are perfectly balanced, and there is a loveliness here that is hard to describe. The individual characters are less important than what the whole of the Café Mimosa makes up together. There are many things being exchanged here: boxes, partners, love, pain and grammar. There is the exchange that is made when strangers recognize that they are in this world together. Exchange at Café Mimosa is really about cultural exchange, and what that really means. How we hear or don't hear each other, and how even though we may not understand each other all the time, there is an aspect of human-ness that binds us together and we are not, despite what we think, alone in this world.
Exchange at Café Mimosa by Oana-Maria Cajal is running through March 25th at Perishable Theatre, 95 Empire Street, Providence, RI. Shows are "Early Bird Thursdays" at 7PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM and two Sunday matinees March 18th and 25th at 2PM. For more information, contact the box office at 331-2695 x101 or the show's official website at www.whatismimosa.com..