Pacific Theatre

Dates and Venue 15 May - 14 June 2014, 8pm (Sat matinees at 2pm) | Pacific Theatre, 1440 West 12th Avenue at Hemlock

Director Sarah Rodgers Set & Lighting design Stancil Campbell Costume design Naomi Sider Sound design Jeff Tymoschuk Tango coach Shelly Stewart Hunt Fight coach Ryan Alexander McDonald Stage manager Lois Dawson

Reviewer John Jane

Espresso is Lucia Frangione's semi-autobiographical redemption play. Originally premiered at this same theatre back in 2003, it was subsequently nominated for several Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards. The play is essentially a demanding performance piece with elements of Catholic mysticism, unrequited love and a family vigil that begins with a serious car accident and ends with a fatal cup of espresso.

It’s not just Lucia Frangione and Robert Salvador, the two performers who seamlessly swap characters and switch gender that must step up to the challenge, the audience also has to bring their A-game. There is little in the way of costume change to help the audience; they have to rely on the actors’ voice modulation and posture to identify the myriad of characters.

The story of an Italian immigrant family attempting to come to terms with their patriarch Vito’s life-threatening injuries is told through Rosa, the self-exiled daughter. Rosa’s relationships with her father, her former fiancé Tony and Amante (lover in Italian) an apotheosis of her erotic fervour is the crux of the play.

The play’s premise necessitates extensive narration from Frangione who also handles the three main female characters: Rosa, Cinzella, Vito’s meretricious second wife and Nonna, Rosa’s paternal grandmother. Robert Salvador, the only other actor on stage, occasionally steps in with the story-telling when Frangione’s character finds it difficult to continue. Salvador also takes on multiple roles: Rosa’s spectral lover Amante, her father Vito and Tony in flashback scenes.

Ms. Frangione delivers a master class in creative characterization. She also provides the audience with an opportunity to laugh (or at least smile) at her eccentric characters. Not through comedy, but through artful dark humour. Robert Salvador gives a charismatic performance as Amante, particularly in the provocative tango scene. While there is a strong suggestion that Amante is presented as a simulacrum of Jesus, Salvador’s portrayal should hardly be seen as blasphemous.

Stancil Campbell’s chimerical set, that includes a hospital gurney, imaginatively splits the stage between indoor and outdoor precincts. Two tilted, multi-paned windows built with exaggerated perspective help create the facade, with one having water cascading onto it to mimic rainfall.

The requisite attentiveness and percipience to this production definitely has its reward. I hope Vancouver theatre-goers don’t have to wait a further eleven years for another taste of Espresso.

© 2014 John Jane