OnStage Connecticut Critic
One of the challenges facing Square One Theatre Company is finding shows that will fit into their new space without making it so small that it diminishes the theatre-going experience. Artistic Director Tom Holehan has found the perfect fit with "Chapatti," now playing through March 19 at the Stratford Academy. Despite its minimal set and cast of only two actors, this play, written by Irish playwright Christian O'Reilly, fills the house with enough comedy, drama, romance, darkness, and light that patrons will leave knowing that they have enjoyed a bold and life-affirming performance.
Based on the description of the play, my expectations prior to the performance were low. A lonely man with a dog, meets a woman with 19 cats and romance ensues. The cynic in me sneered at this premise, but luckily my trepidation was unfounded. Mr. O'Reilly has imbued these characters with many surprising layers and has written such an astonishingly beautiful and poignant script that each rises above the usual caricatures of grumpy old man and crazy cat lady to become fully fleshed out, complex individuals worthy of our sympathy, admiration, and hope for their future.
The story of Dan and Betty is told through an artful series of monologues and encounters, each revealing just a bit more of their personalities, history and motivations. Congratulations to Al Kulcsar and Lucy Babbitt for playing these roles so excellently. Mr. Kulcsar’s Dan is a quietly simmering pot of deeply felt emotions. Dan is full of regret for the missed opportunities in life, yet he stoically soldiers on, until he decides not to. Through the course of the play, we discover the source of his regrets, the depth of his anguish, and his amazing capacity for love; emotions that Mr. Kulcsar embodies fully.
Ms. Babbitt’s unabashed portrayal of Betty is delightful. She starts out quirky, lonely, and resigned, yet through her monologues, we discover her humor and her optimism. Getting a cat was an act of defiance during a painful past and we learn that under her shapeless denim jumper, there is a woman of strength, resilience, and power. We discover that shy, mousy Betty is actually a self-assured, fully sexual and authentic being, not only capable of giving love, but fully deserving of love in return.
The costumes by Gaetana Grinder and Kerry Lampert are perfect for the characters, from Betty’s aforementioned jumper to Dan’s brown sweater and to the bold colors worn by each on their one date. The set by Greg Fairbend, lighting by Clifford Fava, and sound by Don Henault are simple, but effective.
Running without an intermission, the whole production is 90 minutes of well-paced, engaging, and emotional entertainment, thanks to the skillful direction of Tom Holehan and the superb actors portraying this remarkable couple of individuals who overcome their differences and difficulties to find each other. If it is the magic of theatre and great art to lead us back to our own humanity, the universal moral behind a show like “Chapatti” is not to judge others, because beneath the surface there lies hidden depths of emotion and experience that we can only guess at. We are taken on an amazing journey of discovery and the wonderful lesson that Dan and Betty, and the rest of us, learn is that we all deserve to be loved.
Photo: Al Kulcsar and Lucy Babbitt (Square One)