Betty and Dan are animal lovers. She has 19 cats that she has adopted. She nurses them to health and finds safe homes for them. Among them are Bertie, Hamilton and Sundance. He has a dog-named Chapatti. (Named for his favorite Indian flatbread.) They both live in a small suburb of Dublin (both speak in heavy brogues that sound, to my ear, perfect) not far from each other. Both have outlived previous relationships. He lives alone with his dog but he barely exists. She cares for a crotchety gal named Peggy and is upbeat most all the time.
When they finally do bump into each in the waiting room at the local vet’s office, he’s appalled that she is laughing, quite uncontrolled, while gathering up her errant felines after dropping the box holding 8 of them. “The cat woman, laughing her head off and me apologizing… “That place is a madhouse…We’ll not go back there again”
When thinking of romance much attention is focused on the X, Y and Z generations but not so much on the Baby Boomers. Christian O’ Reilly’s slow as she goes love story, Chapatti, is about two lonely 60 ish folks, who find that people love is more frustrating and complicated than the simplicity and unconditional love one has for an animal and vice-versa. It’s a folksy and quirky semi-romantic love story that is as contagious as it is frustrating. Both Dan and Betty are locked into mindsets that need overhauling. For Dan it’s to stop thinking about being with his true love in the afterlife and for Betty its rising above the fact that, years ago, she stayed in a loveless marriage.
Making this its West Coast Premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach through November 15th Chapatti has only been produced once before, according to Artistic Director David Ellenstein. Tony Award-winning director/actor Judith Ivy directs this two -character play with the skill, knowledge and patience that does eventually pay off after several jump- starts.
Structured as a series of monologues, we first meet Dan (Mark Bramhill) standing in his living room talking to his dog about a visit to the vet. There is nothing wrong with Chap. Dan just needs a bit of people conversation. After a stop at the cemetery where he chats with his now deceased love, Martha, he sees the vet clinic as the logical and familiar place to visit. He knows everyone and can come and go freely.
Betty (Annabella Price) has her hands full taking care of her charge Peggy and the cats. Never at a loss for words, she talks to both in cheerful and optimistic tones making her a person of interest, and one, one might be thankful to have as a friend. We do find her, once feeling sorry for herself (“One of these days where I feel like I’m wearing my myself on the outside….But suddenly I remember I have eight little kittens at home waiting to be taken to the vets for their shots”) but she just doesn’t dwell on it. She holds out hope that a special love will one day enter her life. It’s the ultimate death of Peggy’s cat Prudence that is the catalyst for that to happen.
What makes this particular production so affecting is the chemistry between the two. It’s honest and heartfelt. There is a balance and counterbalance between two very different philosophies and people; he wants to die and she wants another chance at love. Bramhall’s low energy determination to get the task of finding a good home for Chap and a chance at trying out the rope hanging from the beam in his bedroom is in sharp contrast with Price’s high- energy assurance that if she plays her cards right, she’ll capture Dan’s attention in a positive way.
In a particularly poignant and funny moment she goes through the motions of getting herself ready for his coming to dinner at her invitation. She spends a good amount of time preparing herself to fit into a red dress she was convinced would be too small. (Elisa Benzoni) It’s a scene many of us have played over and over in our own lives when we’ve kinda sorta let ourselves go.
“There’s this bright red cotton Summer dress I have. Bright red. Maybe its tarty, I don’t care. I haven’t worn it in thirty years, but I’ve kept it, maybe as a reminder, not of my marriage, but of myself, of what I’d hoped for. I’m certain I won’t fit into it”. Price hits all the right notes in this one and it pays off when her dinner date comes calling. “I can’t eat. Betty looks amazing, this red dress and red lipstick, but not tarty, just-just a side of her I know nothing about.., but tonight- her smile, her lips, her eyes, the life in her. And her breasts-the way they’re looking at me.”
Revelations come in spurts as the two go back and forth throughout the 95-minute play reliving the telling moments in their lives speaking directly to the audience. It’s a fine touch as if letting us in on their thoughts while finding a balance to connect with each other. Some might call the story and what looks like the ultimate conclusion predictable. But O’Reilly throws a few curves our way and just when you think all’s well that ends well, well, think again. O’Reilly’s unconventional love story digs deep into the realities and emotions of coming to terms with the seeds we sow, warts and all.
Marty Burnett’s set is divided into two different households but oft times the two cross over into each other’s space causing a bit of confusion in the beginning. Not withstanding though, as usual his rustic and detailed set satisfies the needs of each family. In combining the two areas there is a short walk from Dan’s living room to Peggy’s kitchen that for one to cross into the other’s space may feel like a walk of 100 miles.
George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Think about it, and while you are at it Happy early Valentines Day.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Nov. 15th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, CA 92075
Ticket Prices: Start at $46.00