Though Irving Schulman’s Unknown Players “Café Stories” ‘s run is over (I’d seen its final show) Director Philip Watts came to me with a request. He wanted a review of the three short plays regardless, mainly to let theatre goes know of Schulman’s recent works.
Schulman is originally from New York. He migrated to LA to do stand-up and theatre in 1982, and never left. He has had parts in everything from classics ( Romeo and Juliet, Strreetcar-) to contemporary (Herb Luscious’s, “The Cool.” He’s also a director (“Evil Hamlet” at Stage Werx) and had produced “The Genuine Show” for SF Fringe Festival at The Exit.
In his own words, Philip Watt states in his program notes: “Coffee shops were living laboratories of human interaction where the preparation of drinks and the clinking of spoons were mere adornment for conversation, interactions and unexpected outbursts of caffeine-fueled creatvity were the norm The behaviours have been stunted, seemingly permanently with the advent of tech, but “Cafe Stories” is coming to the rescue.”
The play is an ode to coffee cafés before patrons began burying their face in their laptops and smartphones, where people conversed with strangers while standing in line or sharing a table. “Café Stories” opened on a simple set with two small café tables, chairs, upstage and down: a counter with cash register and coffee service upstage.
Act One opened with “Reciprocity” by Lorraine Midanik where we met Ed, an older man; a young woman, Casey (newcomer Caley Suliak, who should go far in Bay Area Theater), and the waiter (veteran Richard Wenzel). Will Ed help her out? Is he being conned? “Lepidoptera Café” was a longer and more complex play with a larger cast, by new playwright, Raul Delarosa (also theatre actor and noted independent film personality); with Devon deGroot as Butter; Law played by Irving Schulman (who cast himself in some of the plays); Raul Delarosa played Window Washer; Caley Suliak was Pram; and the Prof, Richard Wenzel. Actors sat at both tables as Butter served them. While we may have been be distracted by Window Washer who moved a very large ladder around, climbed to the top and proceeded with concentrated intent, miming washing down windows and wiping clean his squeegee and wiper, somehow, we were not due to the characters’ interactions and intriguing, often comic, dialogue. Act II opened with “Sabrina at the Border,” by Vonn Scott Bair, which also was complex with a larger cast, clever dialogue, and plot, with Caley Suliak as Sabrina; Irving Schulman played Bennett; and Butter, the Waitress by Devon deGroot. Friends were played by Wenzel and Delarosa. “Café Stories”was bookended by Midanik’s “Reciprocity” the opening play. It cleverly resolved issues that came up during Act I. Ed was again played by Marvin Glass, and Wenzel as the Waiter, and a new character, Larry (Irving Schulman), was introduced.
Look for The Unknown Players next production on various theatre and general entertainment websites, and on social media.
From the Program Notes [Edited for brevity and clarity. Some opinions not of the writer]: “Irving Schulman’s Unknown Players are actors who know they work in a city where talent is imported for the big stages, where eking a living from the stage is a frightful prospect. Betting on the idea that there’s nothing to lose in being unique and idiosyncratic, Unknown Players serve as a pipeline to nowhere, as even imagining a pipeline to fame and theatrical success in San Francisco is a type of fool’s errand. This smug acceptance of reality is what allows them to express the inherent contradictions of being an artist in a tech and banking town.”