Over the years, the North Coast Repertory Theatre has featured well-respected artists on stage and behind the scenes. Currently, two-time Tony winner Judith Ivey, who is mostly known as an actress, is directing the West Coast premiere of the dramedy, Chapatti.
Taking place in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, 60-something Dan (Mark Bramhall) spends most of his days taking care of his dog, Chapatti. He is heartbroken over losing his one “true love” and Dan does not have an active social life. Dan’s low-key existence becomes more exciting after he meets a quirky cat lover, Betty (Annabella Price), with her own sad past.
What stands out the most about Ivey’s direction is the way she places actors on Marty Burnett’s homey set. Since Bramhall and Price are often alone by themselves, she has them move in and out of one set that serves as two houses so that the narrative becomes more engaging. When either Dan or Betty go outside to walk or sit on a stone, Ivey makes the atmosphere even more visually entertaining.
Melanie Chen’s sound and Matt Novotny’s lighting add to the Irish narrative. Chen primarily incorporates upbeat instrumental music while Novotny enhances the mood of a comfy home and a dimly lit Irish pub.
Audiences should know about certain aspects of O’Reilly’s script before the 90-minute evening begins. The majority of dialogue consists of extended monologues. At first, this decision works well since the two main characters are introverted people who often keep to themselves.
A problem though is that Dan and Betty still narrate their actions in the form of soliloquies, even when they are having conversations together. O’Reilly could have cut some of the excessive prose without losing any of the genuinely moving moments throughout Chapatti.
This is especially distracting during what is supposed to be the first encounter between Dan and Betty. Instead of showing how they met, O’Reilly has them tell what lead to their “meet-cute.” The pivotal moment could have had a stronger comedic punch if they reenacted the situation.
Although O’Reilly’s style can be too wordy at times, his treatment of serious subject matter is delicately handled. The advertisements and the first part of the play might make viewers think the entire night will consist of a light romance involving the importance of pets and human connections. Yet, several grim revelations about Dan take Chapatti into darker territory that is not often associated with this particular genre.
The main reason why the serious turns work is because as Dan, Bramhall handles the situations in a touchingly sorrowful manner. Bramhall can be humorous and fun to watch, but he does not sugarcoat Dan’s inner demons at all.
Bringing much needed joy to the gloomier material is Price. Though Betty has gone through rough patches, Price has such optimism in her performance that she can brighten any situation.
Bramhall and Price have a sweet rapport together that grows the more they interact. Whether bonding through laughing or helping each other, they are extremely appealing to watch.
While O’Reilly’s text becomes less about pets and more about Dan and Betty’s relationship, he has a compassionate view depicting how animals can fill a void in a human’s existence. Although not a revolutionary concept, he analyzes how pets can help a person even in the bleakest of days.
In spite of a few too many monologues, O’Reilly, Ivey and the cast have crafted a quietly funny and relatable production. Pets might not be allowed, yet their owners should not skip this hopeful story.