Encore Michigan

‘Chapatti’ gets Irish up at The Snug

Review June 10, 2017 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich.–Some people truly know what they want in life. Others know what they definitely don’t want, but cannot quite pinpoint what they do. Still, others think they know, but what they think they want and what they really want are different things. Some people want different things that conflict with each other, but can never choose one over the other. It is a rare soul who has the intuition to discern what someone else truly wants, even if the other person does not clearly see it. The play Chapatti, Playing at The Snug Theatre in Marine City, deftly combines all such personalities into an intriguing two-person drama.

Chapatti, by Christian O’Reilly, is a story set in Ireland of two unlikely allies, Dan and Betty. The two are about as alike as vinegar and oil, but in a similar fashion they complement and improve each other.

Dan lives alone with his dog named Chapatti in a dreary and bare home kept dark by dusty curtains. He remains perpetually devastated by the death of the woman he has loved for thirty years, Martha. He’s lost without her, and even the ritual of caring for his dog painfully reminds him of her laugh. Dan resolutely decides on a course of action that he is convinced will resolve his grief. Although he acts detached, his craving for interpersonal connections is revealed by his habit of finding excuses to take his dog to the vet without an appointment, where he must sit in the waiting room for hours among other pet owners.

It is in this waiting room that he first encounters Betty. Betty has long been divorced from a husband she never really liked, and seems content living with her nineteen cats.  Unlike Dan, Betty has left her unpleasant baggage far behind, and doesn’t let life get her down. She has a habit of laughing heartily at unpleasant situations, and even quietly enjoys the sarcasm of her crabby elderly neighbor, Peggy, whom she cares for.

When a tragedy (of sorts) occurs, Dan and Betty are unexpectedly drawn into a plot to make things right. The plan fails, but in the process Betty’s infectious laughter leads Dan to a cathartic moment. He eventually confesses his grief over Martha’s death and his current plan to Betty, but she suspects his heart is not truly in it. She sees something in Dan that he does not see in himself, making her acknowledge her own long-unstated wish. She uses her own confession, plus a bit of reverse psychology, to attempt to steer Dan in a different direction, although he remains stubborn. Betty’s success or failure will remain unspoiled here, but the takeaway is that both of them change in unexpected ways.

This production of Chapatti is presented by GEM Theatrics, a husband-wife team of Gary E. Mitchell (Dan) and Mary Beth Quillin (Betty). Chapatti, originally commissioned as a radio drama, showcases the wide theatrical range of Mitchell and Quillin. For example, the dog and the cats “appear” on stage in several scenes through the convincing pantomime of both characters. They also effectively use narrative exposition to convey the realness of other characters such as Peggy who, while not technically present on stage, interact with Dan and Betty.

Any show written for only two performers naturally puts a heavy burden of dialogue on each. But Mitchell and Quillin do not stumble, even in their Irish accents, and in fact keep the pacing just right. There are no moments that drag, and there is a perpetual anticipation of what will happen next. That pacing, combined with a compelling script, make the one hour and forty-five minute show seem shorter. And while the overall tone of the play is dramatic, both Mitchell and Quillin deliver the funny moments with ease—from Dan, who is funny because he is so serious, and from Betty, who is funny because she is rarely serious.

While this play could be done with a full set and background or simply with chairs and a table, this moderately dressed set seems appropriate, with each prop precisely chosen. Viewers can focus on the interactions of Dan and Betty without the distraction of too much or too little.

While not for the very young (mature content and a couple instances of language), audiences will enjoy this surprisingly compelling story and its characters, made even more enjoyable by solid, well-rounded acting talent. Chapatti plays at The Snug through June 18, 2017.