Northlight Theatre. By Christian O'Reilly. Directed by BJ Jones. With John Mahoney, Penny Slusher. 1hr 25mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
On paper—and for the first ten or 15 minutes onstage—Chapatti looks dangerously sentimental. A co-production of Northlight and the Galway Arts Festival, Christian O’Reilly’s work about two lonely older folks who might find September-September romance sounds suspiciously like an Irish-brogued retread of last season’s treacly Stella & Lou, which also went from Northlight to Galway. What’s worse, it threatens pet-related cutesiness: Chapatti is the name of his loyal canine pal, while she’s (wait for it) a cat lady.
But O’Reilly and director BJ Jones have some tricks up their sleeves yet, and misdirection is a part of their sleight-of-hand. In cahoots with the embarrassment of riches that is the pairing of John Mahoney and Penny Slusher, Jones and O’Reilly lull us into the suspicion that this is another quiet, lovely play about darling old coots. But while relatively quiet and quite lovely, Chapatti surprises; the play turns out to be less gentle than it seems, and its inhabitants less saintly. Even the truth about cats and dogs is, to mix animalistic metaphors, a red herring.
Pessimist Dan (Mahoney) and bubbly Betty (Slusher) recount much of the tale of their meeting, and how they found themselves living such lonesome lives before it, in alternating monologues, which feels right here. After all, these are two folks who, consciously or not, need someone to talk to, someone to really hear them. The two actors spark something delightful in one another onstage; why shouldn’t we listen?