Friday, December 25, 2015

Cara Carissima - The Acting Company

Review by John Lombard

What kind of stories does the barista hear? Geoff Page's new lyrical play explores the collapse of a marriage over a succession of coffee dates, with the barista (Bruno Galdino) and the audience the only people privy to the whole story.

Barry (Peter Robinson) is a tired and overworked high level public servant who falls for hottie executive assistant Cara (Cara Irvine). Cara breaks with her boyfriend while Barry begins to strategically rock his marriage with Sarah (Nikki Lyn-Hunter), each of them freeing the way for a potential hook-up. Sarah nominates her sister Jane (Kate Blackhurst) as diplomatic envoy to Barry, however Barry has enough cunning to prod the sisters into giving him exactly what he wants.

If this play was a coffee, it would be a expertly brewed skinny flat white with an elaborate rose sculpted into the foam. Artistically a success, but not likely to get your heart racing. The entire play is in rhyming meter and Page's deft wordplay is engaging and charming. But this is a genteel tale of infidelity and divorce, with characters accepting the march of their fate with that weariness which masquerades as wisdom. There is delight in witty treatment of a light story, but the feeling of low stakes prevents the play from reaching dramatic heights.  Few divorces are this amicable.

The direction from Tanya Gruber is meticulous and naturalistic, an excellent stylistic match with Page's detail-rich script. The characters feel real and recognisable, especially for a Canberra audience familiar with the drudgery and rewards of Barry's life as one of the SES elect. Robinson in particular is adroit at showing how differently his character behaves around different people, always with an eye to how he can best self-present. Cara Irvine also wisely does not play her character as a temptress, instead emphasising her self-possession without losing any sexiness. Overall this was a showcase of mature acting with an eye for the small touches.

The play was set in theatre in the round style with audience on four sides, so inevitably there were periods where I was making a detailed study of a character's back. The lyricism and wordplay of Page's script also took some getting used to, a warming up period similar to "tuning in" to Shakespeare. With these barriers to engagement I found it hard to become involved, and this is where the play's brevity worked against it: by the time I was really enjoying it the story was winding down.

Ultimately, I found myself wanting more, which is no bad thing for a play. What other stories did the barista hear? There is excellent scope to expand the play by introducing more of the other tales that unfurl in a coffee shop. Part of the slightness of this play may be explained by its place as the middle chapter of a trilogy centring on a character who, in this piece, is sometimes mentioned but never seen. More could also have been made of the potential ironies that come from the barista's near-omniscient knowledge, that because of his job he knows more about the lives of the characters than they do themselves.  Page's poetry and perceptive observation of character are both gorgeous, but Cara Carissima is a cup of coffee that will satisfy but isn't going to keep anyone awake at night.