Sunday, November 3, 2013

Check Please & Coffee With God—Serendipity Players at El Presidente—downtown, Vancouver, WA



Searching For Answers

These two one-acts are presented as a dinner theatre offering.  Check Please is by Jonathan Rand and directed by Brian Reed.  Coffee With God is by Kal Wagenheim and directed by Joni Moore.  They are playing at El Presidente Mexican Restaurant & Cantina on 312 E. Evergreen Blvd. in downtown Vancouver, WA.  The production is produced by Serendipity Players.  For more information go to their website at www.serendipityplayers.org  or call 360-834-3588.  It plays through November 17th.

A couple things these plays have in common are that they both take place in a restaurant/deli-type setting and the characters in both of them are looking for answers and a purpose to their lives.  The first one is a farcical comedy about “speed dating” and the second, a comedy-drama about a man seeking solace in his life.

Dinner theatre is not an easy venue to present a show (I speak from personal experience).  Sometimes the food is cold when it arrives, the noise from the restaurant/bar overpowers the productions, the servers are constantly interrupting the proceedings by clearing tables or serving while the show is going on, etc.  For the most part these incidents did not occur during this show.

The price for the show and meal is reasonable, being that the cost is comparable to just the play alone in some Portland theatres.  The meal was hot when it arrived and the lone, but very efficient and friendly server, Jose, saw to it that everyone was satisfied before the show began.  There was occasionally overwhelming noise from blenders or crowds from the bar during the show but, in an odd way, it fitted in with the atmosphere from the play, as they both took place in public eating establishments.  So that addition was a somewhat satisfy experience.

The first show, as mentioned, is about “speed dating,” in which you have just a set time period to get acquainted with a partner and then you must change to the next victim when the bell rings.  The Man (Jordan Mui) and the Woman (Jessica Wisniewski) have both resorted to this style of meeting people, looking or Mr. or Ms. Right.

The man fairs less well, meeting up with a sports nut who can only talk that lingo, a woman with mental problems, as several personalities seem to emerge as she’s speaking, and a lady from the geriatric crowd, all played by Lyn Mullin.  Also he meets a man-hater who thinks that all men should be exterminated or used as slaves, and a mime who uses silent gestures to communicate, both played by Lizzy Swanson.  Then there is the mature lady that already has their lives planned out, including the future of their children and the kleptomaniac who manages to swipe just about everything off the table, both played by Cindy Swager.

The Woman only does slightly better, finding a perfect gentleman in Jamie Montgomery, only to discover he’s a gay actor researching the macho world for a “straight” part he is to play.  But she is also beset by a super-egotist who is unaware of anyone else in the world, a man who has an allergy or phobia to anything and everyone, and a fellow who wears a burlap sack (albeit, designer burlap).  All played by Don Smith.  And then there is the man/child played by Brian Reed (the Director, also), who seems to be going through his second childhood.

It should be no surprise that the Man and the Woman eventually meet each other and live...hopefully, ever after.  These characters are stereo-types, of course, and I’m sure we all recognize these attributes in ourselves or someone we know.  Some of the moments come off better than others.  My favorites were Smith’s phobic man, Mullin’s sports nut, Swanson’s mime, Swager’s nester-lady, and Reed’s child-like guy. 

Montgomery was good as one the sanest of the lot and Mui was adequately frustrated as the Man.  And Jessica, as the Woman, has some real talent, as she is both sensual and tough.  An actress worth watching in future parts.  A couple of the parts, as written, deal with mental illness and aging, and border on being politically incorrect.  And the play definitely needs to be picked up in the comic timing, as some of the bits fall flat through lack of it.

The second show is a better script, I feel, and Moore (a veteran of Serendipity) has a better handle on timing.  Who would not want to sit down with God for coffee and discuss world affairs and personal matters.  In this case God (Jan Rosenthal) is a short, somewhat pudgy, Jewish lady with a dry wit and a whole lot of common sense.  And Kal (Aaron Filyaw) is our Everyman, representing just a normal young guy going about living.  But he does have a few questions (which all of us would) for God.

The answers are not earth-shattering conclusions and a bit non-committal.  All religions have their place, disasters and successes are more dumb luck than planned, and, most important of all, Man was born with Free Will and Reasoning Power but how we use those gifts are up to us.  God is listening but we may not always get the answers we want.  But know that when He/She closes a door, somewhere a window is opened.

But Kal had his mother (Jessica Wisniewski) taken away at two, so he never knew her.  So, on request, he is given a personal trip down memory lane, to steal a glimpse of some moments with her, and his father (Don Smith).  A truly poignant tale.  Next order of business, as the play ends, She says she needs to fix those Congress people.  Amen to that!

Aaron has a natural, likable manner onstage, which makes it easy to identify with him.  And Jan is a God we would all like to meet.  A difficult role to pull off but she does it well.  She plays God as a good neighbor with just the right amount of charm, vulnerability and very much, non-judgmental (similar to the way George Burns played Him in the film, Oh, God).  She is, as She professes, having the look and sound, as the beholder pleases.  Don does well as the father and, again, Jessica shines as the mother.

I recommend these shows.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.