Thursday, May 08, 2014

espresso | 2003 review | throwback thursday

In 2003 we premiered ESPRESSO to great reviews. As a little "Throwback Thursday", we thought we'd share the review we got from The Georgia Straight's Colin Thomas. Unfortunately it's not posted online anywhere, so we can't link to the original (back in 2003 newspapers weren't posting everything online), but we can quote it all below.

By Lucia Frangione. Directed by Morris Ertman. A Pacific Theatre production.
At Pacific Theatre until February 22nd.
By Colin Thomas

Reading through my notebook the morning after a performance has never made me cry before. But Lucia Frangione’s new play, Espresso, is so full of love, pain, and redemptive beauty, that as I take in my hastily scrawled, fragmentary records of its lyricism I can’t help but release my grief; Frangione’s words help my heart shed some of its terrors once again. And you know what? The show is really funny, too.

Espresso is one of the best scripts ever produced by a Vancouver playwright and it marks an exciting new level of maturity in Frangione’s writing. Her eccentric comedies, including Holy Mo and Cariboo Magi, are charming, but essentially angry works: in them, she uses clowning and other forms of absurdity to deflate the pomposity and hypocrisy of organized religion. In the infinitely more complex Espresso, Frangione courageously examines the wounds that fueled that anger and the rewards are transcendent.

Espresso tells the story of an Italian family attempting to cope with the life-threatening car accident suffered by its patriarch, Vito. Rosa, Vito’s daughter, begrudgingly shares the narration and enactment of the tale with Amante, whom the script describes as the avatar of love, and who is also clearly Jesus Christ. In Amante, Frangione combines spirituality and Eros, which to my mind — and apparently hers — are one and the same. Through Amante’s interactions with the various women in Rosa’s clan, Frangione lays bare the ways in which the institutions of church and family have so often resulted in the erotic and spiritual diminishment of women.

In doing so, Frangione creates hilariously vital characters. When Cinzella, Vito’s brassy, rebellious second wife, enters the hospital waiting room she crows: “I don’t care what people say, I wear my fur coat. My silver fox …. Something’s always gotta die so something else can live. And this little guy died so I could look like a fucking million bucks.”

But there is also grace. When Nonna, Rosa’s grandmother — whom Rosa likens to a “shriveled little black olive” — prays in the hospital’s kitchen and Amante appears, she thinks that the beautiful creature is mocking her. Nonna was married at 13 and her experience of sex always began with being punched in the shoulder then assaulted with the words, “Woman? You awake?” But when Amante starts to whisper the “Song of Songs”, the most sexual poetry in the Bible, into her ears, she is transported. Amante lifts Nonna, his arms beneath hers. Near death, she finally awakens to her body.

Our parents often influence our erotic and emotional relationships to God, to life itself; Rosa’s relationship with Vito is the core of the play. In a touchingly concrete flashback, Vito cares for his depressed daughter by filling her barren apartment with food and cooking for her for a week, “his round belly dangerously close to the gas stove.” I don’t want to give anything more away other than to say that Rosa must work through grief and self-imposed sexual degradation before she can reclaim her soul. Frangione herself plays Rosa and her pain is so palpable, that I sobbed as she beat Amante’s chest, and cried again when he uttered to her the words of deliverance, from “The Song of Songs”: “The winter is past …. the season of singing has come.”

The two performers who play all of the roles in this production are absolute knockouts. Frangione and Todd Thomson trade characters as easily as people swap ideas in conversation, and it’s always crystal clear who they are. Their wit is enormous — just wait till you see Thomson as Charlotte, the grief counselor — and the passion is deep. ...

This is the best show I’ve ever seen at Pacific Theatre and the Christian company must take credit for its courage in producing such a potentially controversial work.

Espresso deserves many, many more productions. Artistic directors from across the continent should be flocking to Vancouver to experience it.

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