UPDATE: The Thursday, December 20, performance of this show has been canceled. Performances resume Friday, December 21, at 7 p.m. (post-apocalyptic hellscape permitting).
The setup: Bless their hearts, the founding directors of Brelby Theatre Company are still wrangling with getting their Historic Downtown Glendale studio all properly remodeled for public performances. HDG seems like one of the awesomest places in the whole world to run a business, though, because Brelby's neighbors have repeatedly opened their lobbies, patios, etc., to help the troupe put on shows as scheduled.
Currently, Brelby's presenting a revival of Brian Maticic's script that was presented at Playhouse on the Park in 2010: Non-Fat Soy Peppermint Mocha Latte . . . with Sprinkles: A Tale of Christmas Spirit, a title that would make elementary-school book report writers very happy as they struggle to find 500 words.
The execution: Latte (Curtains is not paid by the word) is a pleasingly creative, modern-day deconstruction/re-imagining of A Christmas Carol. I've often thought that Dickens might have reduced the ghost count if he were writing for today's audiences, and Maticic has, indeed, created just one spirit, who suggests we call her Spirit (Shelby Maticic). She's working on fixing Darren (Michael Goodwin), a hyper-serious office worker who isn't quite as grouchy as Scrooge, but he doesn't enjoy the holidays and just wants to be left alone.
Thing is, an adorable co-worker, Trish (Shilah Larson) is crushing on Darren, and she loves all things festive, including her signature drink of the title. (It sounds a bit redundant or contradictory, since soy milk all has about the same amount of fat and a drink can't be both a mocha and a latte, right? but Spirit is the barista and, as Ebenezer Scrooge himself said, "They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.")
Spirit's relentless in her quest, and Shelby Maticic manages to be so energetic, funny, and sincere that although Darren finds her super-annoying, we do not. Her sparkly little snowflakey self is over-the-top, yet multifaceted, and the character is a great outlet for the precision physical control you can expect from Brelby actors.
There are sweet suggestions of other holiday stories and characters floating through the play -- bumbling angel-in-training Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life, the pure joy and love of the Whos in Whoville (inspired in turn by Dickens' Cratchit family, happy together even though life has gone all Grinchy on them). There are also some monologues about each character's most memorable Christmas that could have been just deadly, but are, for the most part, delivered with engaging warmth and good acting. Nevertheless, the play drags a bit after intermission and I would have preferred to hear those stories as dialogue in a scene, for example (if at all).
We attended opening night at Jivemind, a cooperative music workspace in an unassuming building plunked on the corner of a plaza near the Civic Center, the carriage-horse stop for Glendale Glitters, and some portable toilets (for human beings). (It's building 307 on this map, just northeast of the park.)
The Brelby folks had just spent all day moving the set in, focusing lights, etc., and I imagine, similarly to what happened when heavy rain forced their production of Twelfth Night to shift venues, that entrances, exits, and sightlines were not everything they could have been. (And they've probably adjusted by now.) But the (slightly chilly) space's intimacy was a great match for the performers.
The verdict: If fledgling local playwrights tend to have one common flaw, it's writing about plain old ordinary people and failing to make them compelling. Brian Maticic's script for Latte, however, is of near-cinematic quality in several spots, featuring engaging individuals who do rather interesting and heart-tugging things.
Non-Fat Soy Peppermint Mocha Latte . . . with Sprinkles: A Tale of Christmas Spirit continues through Saturday, December 22, at Jivemind, 5754 West Glenn Drive in Glendale. Admission is $17 for children, seniors, and military, and $20 for the general public. Order tickets here or call 928-279-7346.
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