If you have an hour or so to spend over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, do yourself a favor; drop the over-caffeinated Joe and mosey on down to Dukesbay Theatre and spend your time at Tacoma’s Perky’s Coffee House instead.
You’ll get your coffee or tea, complete with some baked goods, while you enjoy your time with Tacoma’s on-going unique soap opera’s fourth episode “Java Tacoma 4: the Merry Wives Americano.”
This is quite a long title for such a small space. The comical script is written by local playwright Matthew L. Anderson and produced by husband and wife team actor Aya Hashiguchi and director Randy Clark.
A few years ago, the pair made it their mission to open theatre opportunities to the multi-ethnic talent gracing the Puget Sound area. It is a pleasure to share in their success.
This is the second venue for the extremely intimate theatre. After the First Congregational Church was sold out from under them, they started looking for a new space and found an up-stairs – up, oh, so many stairs – to an empty room above The Grand Cinema at 508 S. Sixth Ave. in downtown Tacoma.
With a technical and theatrical eye, the couple envisioned the room’s possibilities.
The theatre seats fewer than 50 patrons on two rows of comfortable folding chairs facing the stage, the back wall of which sports floor-to-ceiling black curtains to form an escape for the actors to move behind the stage for exits and entrances. The sound and light booth is off stage left, which is curtained from the entrance to the theatre which also shares the area with the snack area – price included with the very nominal $10 ticket fee.
“J.T.4” tells the story of over-competitive friendly enemies Jeri and Kate – who can make the best cookies: Jeri’s little red ones of Kate’s hearty brownies – and coffee house owner Linda, who find a common ground to fight against in the form of a stranger who appears in their midst bent on courting Linda’s college-aged daughter Anna who is 25 years his junior.
Anna is only interested in prying her college tuition from her mother so she can get registered at PLU then get back to Frank, her new love. Bert, Linda’s husband, is so busy doing very little, that the situation seems to elude him.
John, a Perky regular, who is a retired doctor turned actor, keeps popping up trying out new personalities. And, to add to the complications, Phyllis, a klutzy new server, continues to find any distraction to keep from doing her coffee house chores.
This crazy bunch of characters live their lives in front of the audience, capturing the patrons’ attention from the first quips. Then, Bert adds a Karaoke machine to the melee along with well written, wonderfully performed apt parodies of songs which move the play along to the surprising final curtain.
Clark has done an exceptional job of directing his cast so they fill the very wide, shallow stage yet each can be seen by the whole audience from any seat. He brings out the humor of the lines and situations so even the most sophisticated audience member can relish the humor and naivety of the characters.
Clark also does the set design. Joe Kelly does sound; Ali Criss does lights. Original theme song and musical score is composed by Allan Loucks. Micheal O’Hara does the choreography.
This is a tight cast with accomplished actors and, a special surprise, they sing as well as they act.
Jack House is Bert Gonzales, the co-owner of Perky’s. House is funny just by standing with a blank look on his face; he seems never to be certain of what is happening. His forgetfulness is equally humorous.
Chevi Chung plays his daughter Anna as the spoiled co-ed who thinks she knows it all. Chung is so right in the role; one wonders if her own parents have had to deal with the same problems her character does in the play.
Micheal O’Hara wows the audience as the interloper, Frank Coppola. In this part, the talented actor shows a different side of his ability – a would-be villain; a very nice job.
John Pfaffe is absolutely marvelous as John Falls, who wanders on and off stage doing his best to impersonate everyone from Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney to Darth Vader and doing such a wonderfully bad job of it, the audience is in stitches.
Susan Mayeno plays Jeri Rockwell. She is charming in the role of the “Anything you can do, I can do better” friendly rival.
Marie Tjernlund is Kate Cunningham, the other half of the rivalry “No, you can’t!” is funny from the word go. Together they keep the audience chuckling through the play.
Aya Hashiguchi is Linda Gonzales, the real moving force behind Perky’s. Hashiguchi is so natural and relaxed on stage, she is a calming force to bring the audience back from peals of laughter to the essence of the story. Not to say she doesn’t add her own comical moments – it’s just she does it so subtly with a frozen stare or quiet word which slices right through her opponent.
Sharry O’Hare completes the cast as the fumbling server Phyllis Quickly, and what a hoot she is! O’Hare is in her element with comedy, song and dance. O’Hare excels at all three. However, when she belts out a song she fills the theatre and the hearts of the audience.
“Java Tacoma, The Merry Wives Americano” continues at Dukesbay through April 13, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2.
Some people get a lift from a good cookie – some people from a cup of tea. Many people have to have that cup of coffee. In “Java Tacoma, The Merry Wives Americano” the audience has it all – come, fill your cup at Dukesbay for all three and enjoy a fun-filled evening of theatre.