On Theater: Lonely animal lovers converge in 'Chapatti'

You may not be able to see the title dog or the 19 or so neighboring cats in "Chapatti," an Irish import winding up its all-too-brief engagement Jan. 29 at the Laguna Playhouse, but you'll undoubtedly be able to visualize them.

Christian O'Reilly's bittersweet seriocomedy involves just two characters who'll likely never see 60 again, each of whom chats with the audience as they play out their late-life encounter.

Scratching out an unfulfilled existence in a suburb of Dublin, Dan and Betty seem to have much in common, including their affection for animals. It seems natural that their first meeting is in a veterinarian's office.

Dan (Mark Bramhall) is a grizzled, embittered old man whose only companion is Chapatti, a pooch he's seeking to relocate so he'll be free to end his life. Betty (Annabella Price) is his widowed neighbor, a true cat lady with 19 feline charges "and counting."

Both bring sad back stories to their time together. Dan mourns for a lost love, another man's wife, whose grave he fears to visit since he might encounter her churlish husband.

Betty, on the other hand, was married but not happily. Her lot in life now is as a caregiver to a crotchety old lady, but she still clings to the prospect of a rosy future of loving and being loved.

Bramhall builds a facade of gruff defiance, contrasted by his affection for his faithful dog. He mourns his "Martha" perhaps overmuch, but his continual passion only unveils his capacity for love, should the occasion arise.

Price portrays her character as a jollier old soul, content in her multi-cat world yet also hungering for fulfillment. When she gets all dolled up for her dinner with Dan, she becomes quite physically striking.

David Ellenstein, restaging the play originally directed by Judith Ivey, brings out the humanity in both characters, establishing a verbal balancing act as each brings his or her story to the playgoers in an intimate fashion.

Dan and Betty exist in a rustic cottage inhabited, in turn, by both characters. The set was nicely designed by Marty Burnett. Natt Novotny's lighting helps establish this effect, and Eliza Benzoni's dressed-down costumes are well chosen, contrasting neatly with those in the dinner scene.

Those who have rediscovered love late in life, and I count myself in that category, will especially enjoy "Chapatti," but time is running out for this imported gem at the Laguna Playhouse.

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TOM TITUS reviews local theater.

*

IF YOU GO

What: "Chapatti"

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: Closing performance at 1 p.m. Jan. 29

Cost: $61

Information: (949) 497-2787

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