nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 18, 2010
Have you ever worked at a job—a fast food restaurant, perhaps, or a coffee shop—where you're stuck in a small space all day? A bell dings each time the door opens. You have about a minute to serve each customer before he or she leaves for somewhere else. The rest of the time, you're just trapped behind the counter passing the time.
Baristas is a play about that kind of job.
Ramon (Reggie Gowland) is a barista at Kaffe, a coffee shop kind of like Starbucks or the local chain Joe, but with a Nordic theme. He's an expert at blending fjordacinos (ha!) or making sure a mocha latte has the perfect foam. He knows what the regulars want as soon as they pass through the door. He's master of his element. Still, his life isn't enough.
One rainy day, a new barista, Camille (Kenner Bolt) joins his shift. It is her first day, and in the tradition of all romantic comedies, they immediately hate one another. Camille hasn't even skimmed the training manual and he has the thing memorized. She insists on using words he finds offensive. She makes fun of how he looks. Plus, she's pretty and that makes him nervous. The play takes place over the course of this rainy day and follows the two characters as they discover that they do have one important thing in common: They are both self-described "serial killer fanatics."
There is a lot that is interesting and original about this script, which is written by Evan Twohy and which won the Agnes Nixon Playwriting award at Northwestern University. One thing that is apparent from the first moments is the rhythmic, stylized clip of the dialogue. The play opens with two characters, "Man" and "Woman," played by Joel Sinensky and Isabel Richardson, ordering drinks. Director Scott Weinstein has them stand in line, order, sip, say thank you, go away, and come back again. They do this again in a choreographed, fast-paced merry-go-round. The lines end up sounding pleasantly rhythmic and musical. This is such a strong opening that I found myself immediately hooked.
There are also fantasy sequences where the tone instantly heightens, sometimes becoming (purposefully) melodramatic. In these sequences, Ramon and Camille demonstrate their encyclopedia knowledge. With the help of Sinensky and Richardson, they act out the violent and gruesome stories of real life serial killers such as Ted Bundy, BTK, Zodiac, and some others (some of whom I didn't recognize). Despite the violence of these scenes, I enjoyed them. The play is well-researched, and the factual information adds a lot to the piece. I also found it interesting how the two characters are able to bond so seamlessly through telling these stories and how their language becomes more musical and more like the opening sequence. During the realistic parts of the play, Ramon and Camille are awkward and can't figure out how to connect. During the fantasy scenes, they are of a single mind.
The actors all give solid performances. I liked the contrast between Bolt's toughness and sarcasm and Gowland's puppy dog innocence. Both actors seemed, like their characters, to be most committed during the elevated, fantasy sequences and I found their performances most genuine when the play was the most unrealistic. The two other actors, Sinensky and Richardson, impressively juggle their many small roles, often with flawless comic timing.
Zachary Baer's set captures the crammed quarters of a place like Kaffe and I loved how there were millions of small items perfectly organized. (The properties design is credited to Alex Lieberman and Ed Wasserman). Daniel Carlyon's "muzak" also adds to the atmosphere, and the turn to dramatic, spooky music gives a cinematic effect to the darker parts.
The only thing I would have liked better is more of a plot. There is a loose story—a day in the life, the characters starting to grow on one another—and there is the deeper theme of wanting to get out from behind the counter (so to speak), but I wish there had been a clearer progression in Ramon and Camille's relationship. If the "realistic" parts of the story were tightened up, it would make this unique play that much better.