Saturday, March 29, 2014

Java Tacoma: The Merry Wives Americano at Dukesbay

A grab bag of gags
by Michael Dresdner

    L to R: Aya Hashiguchi, Marie Tjernlund, Chevi Chung                          Photo by Jason Ganwich

In her curtain speech, Aya Hashiguchi described this play quite accurately, though perhaps unintentionally, as “63 minutes, just like television.” Java Tacoma: The Merry Wives Americano at Dukesbay Theater is the fourth installment of a series set in a fictional coffeehouse called Perky’s, and true to Aya’s words, it had more in common with a TV sitcom, or gentle improv, than a true play.  

Leave your expectations of story arc, plot build, and denouement at home. You won’t find them here, but that’s not to say you won’t be entertained. In spite of less than ideal pacing, a dearth of ensemble cohesion, and a storyline that barely exists, this turned out to be a very pleasant hour, with the laughs sprinkled liberally throughout like the nuts in a good almond bark.

Oh, there’s a plot bit about a cop (Micheal O’Hara) named Frank Coppola (get it? Cop, Coppola, Francis Ford… oh, never mind) trying to shake down the coffee shop owners after an accidental death, but it’s silly, easy to see through, pointless, and completely unrelated to its namesake Merry Wives of Windsor. Forget all that and instead enjoy the unexpected mix of funny non-sequiturs, low puns, impressions, charmingly exaggerated characters, and Tacoma-based inside jokes.

This is a world where people and props show up for no apparent reason other than to be a conduit for gags. Thus, a karaoke machine with no plot relevance whatever allows several cast members, individually and in groups, to indulge in intentionally amateurish but surprisingly enjoyable bouts of show tunes and oldies. It also lets two characters argue for no apparent reason about how to pronounce karaoke. See what I mean?

Some characters fill the same ad hoc role. John (John Pfaffe), a mostly irrelevant but charming customer, breezes in, complete with makeshift costumes, to do rapid-fire impersonations of classic lines and characters from popular movies, from Darth Vader and Princess Leia to Clint Eastwood and Jimmy Cagney. And you know what? He’s thoroughly entertaining! So is Kate, perfectly overplayed by Marie Tjernlund, flaunting a garishly “stylish” costume and all the haughty superiority of Miss Piggy, sniping in turns at her hapless rivals, vegan baker Jeri (Susan Mayeno) and cafe owner Bert (Jack House).  

Rounding out the coffeehouse regulars are Bert’s wife Linda (Aya Hashigughi) and daughter Anna (Chevi Chung), and the highly irregular Sharry O’Hare as a delightfully inept employee who’d rather be working at Bluebeard, another local reference that is trotted out enough times to make you wonder if they paid for product placement.

Although there is no costumer listed, costumes were very solid, adding to both the humor and character identity. Pay particular attention to the shoes, some of which are simply wonderful.

Changes in lighting (by Ali Criss) are used to direct our focus on this simple but effective set (by director Randy Clark), and included the unusual use of a gobo “window light,” instead of the more traditional blue lights, to allow safe scene changes. Sound design was by Joe Kelly with original music by Allan J. Loucks. Though I don’t usually mention the set painter, this time it’s worth a nod. Take a long, close look at the superb fake wooden floor painted by Jen Ankrum.

For whatever reason, this tossed together collection of random silliness actually works, and along with some delightful characters, creates a funny and worthwhile night of featherweight theatre.

Java Tacoma
March28 to April 13, 2014
Dukesbay Productions

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