Pacific Theatre’s remount of Lucia Frangione’s Espresso begins with an empty stage containing two suspended windows hung at an angle facing each other. Two stage hands come out and in unison draw see-through gauzy curtains across the stage. The lights dim and when they come up there’s a woman lying as if on a bed, across from her a man standing raised on a platform.
The man speaks of love and describes the woman in glowing, descriptive terms. He walks over to her and they embrace. The lovers are interrupted by a phone call that changes the trajectory of events. From there the play recounts the details surrounding the woman’s father’s car accident and the subsequent gathering of her Italian relatives to his hospital bedside. The car accident is the catalyst around which playwright Lucia Frangione (in the lead role of Rosa) explores themes of family, love, and religion.
The play moves from reality to the characters’ thoughts, making clever use of the curtains. Pacific Theatre is a small theatre unusually laid out with the audience flanking either side of the stage. The direction by Sarah Rodgers and set design by Stancil Campbell use this quality to emphasis the dreamlike sequences and create an illusion that the audience is merely dropping in on memories and thoughts. Sounds designed by Jeff Tymoschuck are superb at creating atmosphere.
Both Lucia Frangione and Robert Salvador portray various characters in the retelling of the events and share some of the roles both female and male. It’s easy to decipher the characters as their physical characteristics and personalities are superbly expressed by both actors. Salvador as Amante (Italian for lover) is able to capture the sexiness of a confident lover as well as the naivety of a young grief counsellor (amongst others) seamlessly.
Lucia Frangione’s writing, while tackling heavy topics such as faith and love, is filled with both funny observations and comic relief. Frangione uses the Songs of Solomon from the Old Testament to connect love, sexuality, and faith. In her eyes, spirituality and sexuality are intertwined. The ability to illustrate faith as love verging on the sexual for the Holy Spirit and make it believable is a strong testament to her work as a playwright.
The importance of the title Espresso isn’t revealed until close to the end of the play. By then the audience has become enthralled with this journey of discovery set against the backdrop of family and fateful events.
Espresso is well written, directed, and acted, making it a must-see for anyone who’s ever struggled with how to convey their thoughts and beliefs. A shot of Espresso and some Italian relatives will jolt you into a world of emotions you didn’t know were lurking under the surface.
Espresso continues at the Pacific Theatre through June 14. Photos by Ron Reed.