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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

"It's 10:45. You're here at Starbucks and here it is. . .the human condition." —Jeff
Chandra Lee Schwartz, Donathan Walters, and Eric Wentz (Photo: Ed Krieger)
An actress is tracking both her next audition and the audition after that. A Realtor is sandwiching a blind date between haggling over a property in play. The lone Barista on duty has James Taylor on his mp3 and is alternately sweeping and serving. A finance guy, having been majorly shot down by the Realtor with whom he was supposed to have a blind date, is now trying to strike up something with the actress, while also checking the market. A former Fortune 500 CEO, now homeless, believes he is the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia and dresses accordingly. In between hitting on all the women, a screenwriter is working on his latest opus concerning the "human condition."

All of this is going down at, where else but that incubator of human condition-ing. . . a west L.A. Starbucks. All that remains is for a disruptive agent to come along and wreak some half-caff havoc, and (wouldn't you know it!) here comes a lonely guy named Martin wearing a hoodie and carrying suspicious goods in the bag which should contain a bowling ball.

Playwright/screenwriter/novelist Peter Lefcourt has a strong comedic flair for depicting narcissism, and he laces his latest work Café Society with a current of satire that nips more than it bites. The players of Café Society, having its world premiere at the Odyssey Theatre, inhabit their personas with plenty of comic brio, but the play feels pat and too intent on a happy ending. For Lefcourt, who once set a contemporary version of Schnitzler's La Ronde in a trendy restaurant, depicting disconnection at Starbucks is a cakewalk.

The aforementioned disrupter, Martin, (played by Nick Cobey) has a beef with Starbucks, and he's not leaving or letting anyone else go free until he gets across the message that this company is 12 kinds of evil. The patrons attempt to get company CEO Howard Schultz on the phone to let Martin air his grievances. Schultz proves tough to reach. Less so Geraldo Rivera, local news reporters and certainly members of the local and national law enforcement.

What everyone is too self-absorbed to realize, of course, is that it's not Starbucks that has fashioned this café society disconnect, but the clients who are physically incapable of unplugging, un-posting or otherwise powering down. As convenient as it may be for Martin (or Lefcourt) to chicken-and-egg the culpability question, these individuals are largely vain, bonkers or just plain rotten. When Jeff the screenwriter (Eric Wentz) and Kari the actress (Chandra Lee Schwartz) put their heads together to option and cast the movie of the events unfolding, Martin rather wisely asks "what are you talking about?" That movie-making rift bogs down the action a bit although there's a clever post-curtain payoff.

Laughs are spread fairly evenly throughout the cast with Schwartz's ambitious costume-shifting Kari acquitting herself particularly well. Eric Myles Geller as Bob the finance guy takes what might have been a standard-issue heavy and gives it some heft. Donathan Walters delivers some welcome calm as Darnell the over-educated Barista and Susan Diol works her smartphone like mad as Marilyn the Realtor (although the character's shedding of undergarments seems a peculiar way of trolling for yuks.) They've nailed the setting. Videographer Troy Hauschild's projection screens keep us abreast of every call, tweet or text. In fact, from the menu to the wall hangings to bags with that ubiquitous logo, set and prop designer Amanda Knehans has recreated a Starbucks with such exactitude that one wonders whether an attorney for the mega-biz hasn't come knocking with a cease and desist order.

Apparently you can buck Starbucks. Would that Café Society had done so with a sharper edge.

Café Society
by Peter Lefcourt
Directed by Terri Hanauer
Produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners
Cast: Nick Cobey, Susan Diol, Eric Myles Geller, Chandra Lee Schwartz, Donathan Walters, Eric Wentz, Ian Patrick Williams with special appearances by Kailyn Leilani and Gabriel Romero
Set and Prop Design: Amanda Knehans
Costume Design: Jackie Gudgel
Lighting Design: Donny Jackson
Sound Design: Dino Hermann
Production Designer: Yee Eun Nam
Videographer: Troy Hauschild
Graphic Designer: Nancy Nimoy
Fight Director: Mike Mahaffey
Stage Manager: Rita Cofield
Plays through October 11, 2015 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. (310) 960-1055,
Running time: One hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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