Tea and Sympathy for Two

By Geary Danihy

Tom Holehan, artistic director at Square One Theatre Company in Stratford, has over the theater’s 27 seasons had the knack for often selecting what might be called “actor plays,” by which I mean that many of the theater’s productions allow the actors to simply show their stuff, to create engaging, believable characters without the assistance of all the bells and whistles that Broadway playgoers seem to demand these days. Such is the case with Chapatti, a tender two-hander by Christian O’Reilly and directed by Holehan that runs through March ??. With little more than some tables, chairs and a coat rack, Holehan’s cast brings to life a play that ever so slowly embraces you until, in the final moment before the blackout, a moment sans dialogue, all you can do is smile.

Set in modern Dublin, Chapatti tells the story of two essentially lost souls who might just find solace in each other’s arms. Yes, it sounds like “chick-flick” fodder, but playwright O’Reilly seems attuned to the spirit of the short story, a genre that focuses on character development and revelation more than plot development and conflict, although there is certainly a plot and conflict in the play, but it is secondary to learning about the two people up on the stage.

Dan (Al Kulcsar) is a dog person, for he is the owner of Chapatti, a canine of indeterminate breed who is his soul mate. Betty (Lucy Babbitt) is a cat person, tending to a host of kittens and a dementia-challenged elderly lady. Their worlds, framed by past relationships, do not so much collide as stumble into each other when a cat is run over by a car. Dan sets out to seek its owner and knocks on Betty’s door.

As Dan and Betty begin to interact there are revelations, the nature of which needn’t be discussed lest I be labeled a spoiler. Suffice it to say that Dan, after loving for so long but never having the comfort of his true love as his own, is ready to say goodbye to the cold, cruel world he now inhabits. Betty, no longer a maiden but still thirsting for love, sublimates her passions through her devotion to her cats.

The plot points in the play are important, but that’s not what’s enjoyable about or central to Chapatti. For anyone who likes to see two actors “do their stuff,” this is your ticket. Kulcsar gives us a man defeated by desires deferred, whose only wish now, after making sure Chapatti, the dog, has a new, good owner, is to, through suicide, perhaps gain total attachment to the woman he has loved for over 30 years. He gives us a man who wants to live but believes that he can only find meaning in death. He has some heavy “message” lines to deliver near the end of this one-act play, and he handles them as best as they can be handled, but for the bulk of the evening he offers us a tormented, tender soul that we can easily embrace.

As for Babbitt as Betty, all you can really say is “Wow!” She is dead-on perfect as an insecure yet perceptive woman who accepts what her life has become but senses that there just might be an alternative. Her Betty is edgy, flighty, given to outbursts of riotous, nervous laughter and a windmill of fluttering arms and hands as she tries to contain her growing excitement that she may have found…someone. Near the end of the play, Betty has invited Dan over for dinner and there is an extended scene that involves preparation and a red dress, a scene that Babbitt pulls off with exquisite aplomb, heightened by the actual dinner when she must seem to accept Dan’s decision to kill himself while fighting for his life. It’s a petite tour de force.

When watching a play you can never be totally sure who is responsible for what in terms of interpretation and stage business. To do that you would have had to be privy to the possible table talks and rehearsals. Thus, it’s difficult to determine where the touch of director Holehan’s hand influenced what the audience sees, but what is obvious is that, whoever suggested what to whom, Holihan has created an atmosphere that allows his actors to shine, and shine they do.

Chapatti runs through March 19. For tickets or more information call 203-375-8778 or go to www.squareonetheatre.com

 

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