I love it when a show makes me work and The Café had me hoppin’. The evening also offers a tasty tasting menu of emerging and established local talent.
In The Café, which was conceived by Fay Nass, seven short plays are performed at tables scattered around Kafka’s, which is a real-world café on Great Northern Way. The scripts unfold simultaneously, but each is repeated three times, so your job as an audience member is to catch as many of the offerings as you can — especially the ones you’re particularly eager to see. Don’t worry, there’s no audience participation, but you are encouraged to sidle right up to the performers, to sit and stand beside them.
And you’re going to want to do that because it’s magical. How often do you get to sit just a couple of feet away from somebody as they completely — deliberately, skilfully — transform themselves into a different human being? Every time an actor does that, it’s like they’re opening a portal to a parallel universe. And, unless you’re an actor yourself, you rarely get to see it this close up.
Watching Ben Elliott in Father’s Day is particularly thrilling. Sebastien Archibald’s potent, well-built script is about a meeting between Peter (Elliott) and his father Benoît (Joey Lespérance in a detailed performance), whom he hasn’t seen in 25 years. There is so much simmering beneath the surface in Elliott’s portrait — shyness, hope, rage — and it’s so contained. In my notebook, I just kept writing, “Ben!” — not very articulate, but certainly heartfelt.
I had a similar experience with Melissa Oei in Derek Chan’s Space Aliens and Tropical Ducks, in which Max (Oei) tries to explain to her former partner Alex (Alison Ward in an impressively subtle piece of work) what’s going on with her. I won’t give away the revelation, but I will say that, when it comes, Max flushes and her eyes brim with tears. The moment is as natural, as unforced and astonishing, as a sunset.
There’s one more performer I want to single out, somebody I’ve never seen before: Paloma Kwiatkowski, who appears as Agnieska, a Polish immigrant who’s trying to work out the terms of her relationship with her Canadian-born girlfriend Lee (Claire Love Wilson). “I don’t need you to save me from my parents,” a frustrated Agnieska tells the well-meaning, self-consciously progressive Lee. “I don’t need you to fix my life … I just need you to listen.” There’s a rock-hard intelligence in Kwiatkowski’s portrait and — absolutely charmingly — a sly and teasing sense of humour. I was smitten.
The smart, playful script, which is called Przyjaciólki (Friends) is by Anais West.
There’s plenty of engaging acting and writing elsewhere, too. I’d get into it, but I want to leave you lots to discover for yourselves.
My one frustration: it’s impossible to catch all seven pieces within the allotted time. But maybe that’s part of the buzz. And I found a simple solution: after the seven o’clock show, I hung around for the nine o’clock.
THE CAFE Concept by Fay Nass. With scripts by Kelsey Kanatan Wavey, Sebastien Arnold, Fay Nass & Diana Garcia, Manami Hara, Omari Newton & Amy Lee Lavoie, Anais West, and Derek Chan. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin and Fay Nass. Produced by ITSAZOO Productions and Aphotic Theatre. Running at Kafka’s (a café at 577 Great Northern Way)*, until October 22. Tickets
*Pro tip: When I was trying to find this place, the Maps app on my phone kept sending me on wild goose chases (Google Maps was better), so be aware of that and give yourself time. Kafka’s is at the corner of Great Northern Way and Carolina.
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