note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
The Deb Talon cover of Smokey Robinson's "Second That Emotion" is reason enough to see the Mill 6 Collaborative's hilarious "Cafe Society". She meows her way through the Motown --- or should I say Meowtown --- classic a la the kitty Christmas carols which emerge each holiday season. Evidently everyone thinks cats singing is a hoot. Mozart even wrote a meow duet --- But I digress.
Robert Simonson's madcap sendup of coffee-addicted hipsters gets a high energy, cafeinated outing at The Theatre Coop's Peabody House in Somerville. Just like Preston Sturges' screwball comedies of the '30s, the plot (here, a throughline) is as thin as the milky steam on an espresso, but who cares! The characters are glorious --- all hovering about, trying to escape the clutches (or is it the coffee klatches) of Lucy, whose father brews the best beans in town and whose uncle bakes the world's best pastries. None of her customers can function without a fix from Voulez-Vous.
Lucy (Laura Napoli, in a tour de force performance) lures her customers home with promises of free coffee and napoleons. Once they're drawn into her web, they can't escape. Well, they could run away, but then they'd have to go cold turkey on the brew and goodies. They carp --- to each other, not in front of Lucy --- that we live in a world where the customer is subservient to the shop-keeper. (like the system in France where, I should point out, "the customer is always wrong"; and this cafe does have a French name --- But I digress again.) Suffice it to say, not one of these characters is ready to surrender his dependency on latte and croissants.
Director Brendan Hughes gets great mileage out of an awkward first meeting in Lucy's living room, as well as Lucy's frenetic entrances and exits. Would there were more. Napoli flies like a duck across water, almost running on top of the surface. Having seen her last season in the Havel play, I can attest that no one plays crazy with more intensity...sheer delight!
One of the perks in seeing such fine ensemble work id that each role stands out in relief. The smallest is john Edward O'Brien's pastry chef, on stage for the blink of an eye; it's totally delicious because he's covered with flour, eyes flashing, and then --- he's gone! Then there's Lucy's strangely menacing father (Tony Dangerfield) whose appearance is much too brief --- but Dangerfield is back as a policeman who tries to mediate between Lucy and one of her customers. Juliet Gowing gives a smart, spunky performance as a "nice" everywoman driven to harsh words by looney Lucy. Irene Daly is fabulously acerbic as the one outsider who can take or leave Lucy. John Schnatterly and Pamela Rogers get laughs as human spiders snagged by Lucy's sticky buns. Paul Barrett gets to chew the scenery --- which is completely dark-roast black-on-black for every chair, table, flower and plate in John Dowd's cafe set --- as a manic, maniacal children's book writer (based on Roald Dahl) who is shadowed by the brisk, tightly-wound, badly in need of a cup of decaf Jason Schuchman playing an FBI operative. (Don't ask.) Best of all is Rodney Raftery as a gell-haired, indignant cafe consumer who wishes he could "strike a blow to the service industry" but can't say away from the sweets.
It doesn't matter how you like you're cup o' joe, "Cafe Society" is the best pick-me-up you'll get this season