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Theatre Review: 'Chinese Coffee' at Flight Theatre

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Guy Camilleri and Matt Chait in 'Chinese Coffee.' (Photo by Eric Krieger)
Currently running at Flight Theatre, Ira Lewis's Chinese Coffee is a weighty examination of a heated argument that treads a range of themes including the blurred boundaries of an old friendship, poverty for the sake of art, regret, and the ethics of intellectual property through the lens of two perpetually disagreeable and jealous old friends.

Lewis's drama is a barrage of quick and passionate exchanges, but the script is at times tedious and exasperating. Some plays are valuable because they are pleasant and entertaining while others are valuable for their ability to draw the audience so deeply into the raw (and sometimes utterly unpleasant) emotions of the play, that they become similarly affected as well. Chinese Coffee may fall in to the latter category.

Guy Camilleri and Matt Chait have excellent on-stage chemistry together. Lewis's dialogue is not consistently interesting, leaving little to cull from their lines. Despite this, Camilleri and Chait remain consistently energized. The most intriguing facet of their execution of Chinese Coffee is not found in the moments when they are speaking, but through the expressiveness of their meta-communication. The conscience revealing essence of this play is all in the reactive facial expressions, body language, and receptive processing that Camilleri and Chait have so finely mastered. Their performance together is completely symbiotic.

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Chinese Coffee is not a perfect production, and certainly could benefit from heavier use of its technical crew, but it does have some good moments. Under the direction of Jack Heller, the show hinges almost entirely on dialogue of repetitively patterned retorts without the emotion affecting brevity of theatrical lighting changes. The cumulative production aptly evokes the frenetic energy of New York City's grittier past and provides an acutely realistic depiction of argumentative parley. Occasionally, the cast slips into cliched mimicry of the New York dialectic with obvious reliance on the personas of Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen. A good director should catch such an obvious flaw and immediately fix it, especially when working with such a capable cast. Marco DeLeon's set is meticulously detailed but not extravagant, and fosters a neorealistic and purgatorial tone reminiscent of the in-limbo sensation of the very early morning.

Chinese Coffee is playing at Flight Theatre through February 13, 2011. Flight Theatre is located in Hollywood at the Complex at 6472 Santa Monica Boulevard, Second Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tickets are available online or via phone at 323-960-7792.