Monday, March 31, 2014

Java Tacoma – Episode 4: The Merry Wives Americano

Opening night of Java Tacoma at Dukesbay Theatre was a lot of fun.
That’s Java Tacoma Episode 4 — or so it was listed on the program even though the previous episode was Episode 38. You just can’t trust these home-grown soap operas for truth in advertising.

Rehearsal for Java Tacome. Aya Hashaguchi Clark (left) and Chevi Chung. Director Randy Clark in background.Photo by Jason Ganwich

from left: Aya Hashiguchi Clark, Marie Tjernlund and Chevi Chung. Photo by Jason Ganwich
The show was written by Matthew L. Anderson, directed by Randy Clark, set in Tacoma, and  performed by a fun ensemble cast featuring some well-known and well-loved actors. I won’t risk spoiling it by saying anything about the plot (thin but interesting), because there are surprises and a mystery at the heart of the story. I will say, however, that it is a parody of . . . well, just about everything from murder mysteries to soap operas to Broadway musicals. I will also venture to say — because this doesn’t give anything away — that at least one character in the story hates show tunes so much that if you wanted to torture him or her the best way to do it would be to force him (or her) to listen to show tunes. And I will also say that there are some political shenanigans going on and threats of bribery, and karaoke and a war between vegan and paleo cookies.

Did I give away too much? There’s a lot going on in this show.

Susan Mayeno, whom local theater-goers will remember from The Joy Luck Club at Tacoma Little Theatre, plays Jeri “Effen” Rockwell with unbridled intensity.

Aya Hashiguchi Clark plays Linda, the frustrated and put-upon owner of the coffee shop where all the action takes place.

Chevi Chung plays Anna, Linda’s headstrong daughter. To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Chung on a South Sound stage. She’s a graduate of the Guildford School of Acting in England.

Jack House, known for his roles in August Wilson’s great drama Radio Golf at the Broadway Center and for The Color Purple at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, is great as Linda’s clueless husband, Bert.

Longtime Tacoma favorite Micheal O’Hara is outstanding as the sleazy cop, Frank.

O’Hara’s equally renowned and much loved wife, Sharry O’Hare, proves to be a karaoke queen and a dancing fool as Phyllis, perhaps the worst barista in the West.

John Pfaffe, another local favorite, plays the thespian wannabe John, and does screamingly funny impersonations of a slew of popular movie stars.

And finally, Marie Tjernlund is commanding as Kate, the ultra-vain entrepreneur who lost a recent city council race to Bert. How could anybody lose to Bert? He can’t even go to the store to buy coffee without screwing up.

During the first scenes I thought the entire cast was over acting, hamming it up like self-absorbed amateurs, which surprised me because I knew most of the actors were better than that. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I decided that maybe they seemed overblown because the seats were so close to the action. But quickly I realized they were lampooning overly dramatic actors and doing it well, especially when they burst into song and even more so when they went into stop-action poses.

Anderson’s script is clever and rife with insider references to Tacoma. It is a short play, about an hour in length with no intermission.  It starts early, at 7:30 p.m., and lets out early enough for patrons to go out for drinks or an after-show dinner.

An interesting thing I noticed opening night: The theater seats around 30, and most seats were filled. In the audience I counted five actors and three critics, a potentially critical crowd. They were laughing throughout. This tells me two things: 1) that local theater folk support one another, and 2) that it was a funny show. (Full disclosure: I didn’t see if the other critics were laughing, but I certainly was.)

WHERE: The Dukesbay Theatre, 508 S. Sixth Ave #10, Tacoma (3rd Floor Merlino Art Center)
WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 13
TICKETS: $10, advance tickets at
INFORMATION: 253-267-0869,

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