Actors’ Summit serves up simple, charming ‘Chapatti’
By Bob Abelman
Place two chairs on a stage and put Anne McEvoy and Neil Thackaberry in them and great theater is likely to result. And it does in Actors’ Summit’s production of “Chapatti,” a new play by Irish playwright Christian O’Reilly.
This one-act two-hander has all the elements for which this theater and its audience have a particular fondness: Romance, good writing, simple production values, and the founding artistic director walking the boards.
The play examines the evolution of a November romance between two very lonely, very likable people who happen to live just around the block from one another. Dan, whose beloved mutt lends his name to the title of this play, lost the one woman he loved to cancer after a 30-year affair and is counting the days to his own demise. Betty, a self-confessed cat lady, lived through a loveless marriage and has given up hope of ever loving or being loved by anything on two legs.
The writing is simple, charming and more than occasionally corny, but its presentation is deceptively and enjoyably sophisticated. While the two neighbors are strangers, they speak in direct-address to the audience and narrate their sorry, unassuming lives. This turns into self-reflective monologues when the two discover each other and then evolves into witty dialogue once they connect and a relationship takes hold.
The stage is bare save for two chairs and a coat rack between them that is used alternatively by both Dan and Betty in their respective working-class homes in Dublin. The simple set is surrounded by blackness, which, while uninspiring artistically, serves to focus all our attention on the two actors and their heartfelt and empathetic performances.
McEvoy’s Betty is a warm and sensitive soul, and it takes remarkable restraint to stay in your assigned seat and not climb upon the stage to pour her tea, offer a supportive hug, and share some soft-spoken words of encouragement.
And, while up there, it would be tempting to offer some scripted words to Thackaberry, who seems to be having a tough go with the quantity of them the playwright put on his plate. Season subscribers will most certainly forgive his trespasses and get lost in his brilliant handling of the more emotional moments in the play. But others will find that his hesitation slows down the proceedings and makes it just a bit harder to connect with Dan than with Betty.
Director Brian Zoldessy does well to stay out of the way of these seasoned performers while making sure that their talents and those of the playwright are front and center. CV
WHERE: Actors’ Summit, 103 S. High Street, Akron
WHEN: Through March 13
TICKETS & INFO: $10-$33. Call 330-374-7568 or visit actorssummit.org
Bob Abelman covers theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on March 3, 2016.