If you like your stage plays tight as a drum and sitcom funny, then you’ll love “Caf√© Society” at The Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles.
Written by author and Emmy Award-winning TV writer Peter Lefcourt and directed by his wife, Teri Hanauer whose credits include film, TV and stage, this Santa Monica Canyon-based couple set their fast-paced commentary about our overly-connected life in a Starbucks.
It’s a typical day with people drinking their coffee and absorbed in their personal lives in a nominally communal setting, eyes cast down upon their hand-held devices, phones, tablets and laptops.
The polished cast is a tight-knit ensemble whose well-choreographed moves are blocked smartly and the action flows naturally onstage.
The characters include an actress waiting for an audition call-back, a screenwriter focused on “the human condition,” a realtor in the midst of closing a big deal who’s meeting an online blind date, the wealth manager who was supposed to meet her but gets sidelined, the kindly, sympathetic barista and the crazy eccentric homeless guy who used to be a wealthy CEO. Their situation gets complicated when a hoodie-wearing malcontent walks in with a bowling bag claiming to have a bomb.
The set is impressive; it’s Starbucks down to the nitty-gritty details including the menu and prices for lattes and frappucinos. The texts and Facebook posts being sent by the characters and the screenplay as it’s being written are projected on the same boards as the menu. Slick and professional define the staging.
So what’s wrong? Essentially this is a play about nothing. While its claims to be a commentary on how technology is driving our lives, and how strangers can band together to defuse a tense situation, “Caf√© Society” undermines its own message by making the “bomber” a guy who’s merely distressed about a bad turn in his relationship.
He comes in demanding to talk to Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks while railing about corporate dominance and the loss of local small businesses and individual control, but he ends up merely being a schnook who’s trying to prove to his girlfriend that he’s capable of taking action, not just complaining, misguided though that action may be.
The usual kind of wham-bam buildup gives us just enough information about the characters to decide who’s a good guy, who’s there for romance, who’s there to act the part of the hero and to learn what individual dramas each character is going through. There’s just enough lip service paid to the bomber’s complaints about the over-corporatization of our culture to make it feel briefly genuine.
But the clich√©d “turn it into a viral/media event then make it a movie with star casting” trope just made this feel like a paint-by-the-numbers formula to me; at its heart, there’s no ‘there’ there.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t laugh out loud funny; I just found it empty. If your goal is entertainment, you’ll find it here. “Caf√© Society” plays at The Odyssey Theatre through Oct. 11. Find out more at www.odysseytheatre.com.
All Hail Hale!
There’s a small gallery in the Edgemar Complex that brings local and affordable art within reach of the masses. haleARTS Space often holds limited-run exhibitions of artists whose works you can pick up for as little as $100.
Well this week, Michael Hale, the mastermind behind the gallery, will be exhibiting his own work, with a reception on Friday, Sept. 4 from 5 to 8 p.m.; his art will be on view and available for purchase through Sept. 16.
Hale is an LA native and an award-winning interior designer, artist and founder of the four-year-old haleARTS Space, whose goal is to provide a platform for local emerging artists to create a community and providing a forum for them with local collectors and art lovers.
Hale’s own work incorporates neon and other transparent materials, combined with text to create irony, humor, puns and messages delivered in a soft, ethereal glow of light.
For details visit www.halearts.com. The gallery is located at 2443 Main St.
Modern Day Moliere
I’ll be attending this production next week; City Garage continues its tradition of ribald, contemporary versions of Moliere’s classic comedies with the world premiere of a new take on his masterpiece about religious hypocrisy, “Tartuffe,” translated by director Frederique Michel and adapted by her long-time collaborator Charles Duncombe.
“Tartuffe, a Reality Show!” takes place in a Beverly Hills mansion, where the head of the house takes in a homeless hustler who pretends to be a pious preacher. Family members see through this con man until they too are seduced. Will he succeed in getting them to sign over all their worldly goods?
Opens Friday, Sept. 11 at City Garage, located at Bergamot Station. Click on citygarage.org for tickets and details.
Coming soon to the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City is an unusual production called “The Object Lesson,” and I’ll be your eyes and ears at this one, too.
From the press materials, “The Object Lesson” is written and performed by actor/illusionist/inventor Geoff Sobelle, who transforms the theatre space into an epic storage facility with 3000 boxes stacked to the ceiling. Audiences are free to roam and poke through the clutter in this immersive theatrical installation that unpacks our relationship to everyday objects.
It opens on Sept. 9, with previews beginning this Friday, and will run through Oct. 4. For more visit www.centertheatregroup.org.
Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various publications.