Joel Tan's latest production gives you something to ponder over a cuppa.
Heading into the Black Box at the Goodman Arts Centre for the first time, I was excited to watch Café, whose synopsis intrigued me the first time I read it.
Written by local playwright Joel Tan, it described the interactions of staff and customers trapped in a café while a calamity occurs outside, distorting the characters’ ideas of time as they try to maintain a sense of normalcy.
The 90-minute play starts off fairly lighthearted, with a conversation between two friends, Jaeclyn (Zee Wong) and Shireen (Jasmine Xie), who are ex-classmates catching up at a café.
Their conversation is one that most of us would have overheard or even participated in before, with vapid discussions revolving around the lives of other schoolmates, the food on the menu, and their respective jobs.
Their banal conversation is contrasted sharply with that of the café staff, ex-convict Kim (Joshua Lim), Eleanor (Ellison Tan) and Zat (Erwin Shah Ismail), who behave like a dysfunctional family and whose problems far outweigh those of the two customers.
Without a clear timeline in the play, it left me feeling slightly distressed as well, as if I was sucked into their warped world. With the storm thundering outside the entire time, it made the audience feel like they were stuck in a limbo with these characters, whose conversations and actions were sometimes repeated.
The café did seem to portray purgatory, especially since there was no concept of time. The characters tend to vanish slowly into thin air throughout the performance, which left me feeling slightly perturbed.
For me, the standout scene was when Jaeclyn and Kim faced off one-on-one towards the end of the play. When Shireen abandoned Jaeclyn at the café to search for her husband, we sensed Jaeclyn’s suppressed loneliness through her scathing rant towards Kim, who was making his way out of the café, similarly abandoned by his co-workers.
Wong also does a great job portraying Jaeclyn as the gossipy, self-absorbed high-flyer whose material wealth does little to quell her insecurities or hide her lack of social skills.
Overall, while I felt that Café was slightly draggy, it did a good job of portraying various characters, whose conversations left me feeling slightly uncomfortable at how accurate they were.
From the pointless talk of waffles and pregnant ex-schoolmates between Jaeclyn and Shireen, to the money problems and worries of Kim and Eleanor, certain points of the play struck a chord with me at how relatable the characters were.
If only Café was half an hour shorter, it would have been just my cup of tea.
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