Espresso at The Drayton Arms Theatre
Espresso is a touching tale of love, loss and the ties and obligations of family in a modern day Canadian-Italian family. It is a story intertwined with Catholic guilt, sensuality and the inability to run away from your past.
In the play we meet Rosa, a young woman who has traveled far from her intense and joyously stereotypical Italian immigrant family in an attempt to forge her own self. A tragic accident which seriously injures her father brings her back into the folds of the family she tried so hard to escape, and the reunion brings up some difficult-to-face home truths as she struggles to cope with the emotions and interactions of her family and her dying father.
She is forced to explore these issues at the urging of a sort of religious sprite – defined in the program by the author as a “spiritual energy” named Amante – who haunts and taunts and pulls and twists the emotions of not only Rosa, but also Rosa’s chain smoking and brash stepmother, and her wizened and hunching elderly Grandmother (also named Rosa.)
The play is very well-written and, although it starts a bit stiffly, it moves from side-splittingly funny scenes and lines to moving and emotional ones with grace and delicacy. The characters in Rosa’s family are multi-faceted, and the personalities and emotions of each are crucial to understanding both the story and also Rosa as a main and focal character.
Every family member is played by the same two actors –the likeable Eleanor Russo (who mainly features as Rosa) and Niall Murray (who we mainly see as the role of Amante.) They each overlap and share all of the roles, yet they have such clearly defined characteristics for each role or character that it becomes quite obvious who is playing who without any change of clothes or accessories. Both actors are fluent in all of the roles, but this switching of roles does lead to inevitable comparisons of who was stronger in each role. Eleanor Russo is undeniably stronger as the ageing and largely antagonistic Grandma (also named Rosa) and also as young Rosa’s stepmother. Similarly, Murray is at his strongest when bringing the younger Rosa’s dying father to life.
The storyline is strong, but does feel rather long in the second half. There are several points in which the story could come to a rather natural conclusion, but there always seems to be another stone to overturn; another bridge to cross. The story is also less than straightforward when considering the rather sensual and religious scenes interspersed within the story in which members of the family are carried out of their normal existence into an erotic pas de deux with the spirit, Amante. These scenes are visually engaging, but a connection is not always clear to what is currently occurring in their “real” life – a shame, as it seems as if the Amante scenes are very important to the writer of the piece.
The twist to the storyline is poignant and elicits soft gasps those around me as the penny drops. This is not an overly feel-good story; there is tragedy strongly intertwined in every word spoken, every movement made – but there is such lovely dialogue that intersperses the moments of despair and many moments of love, making it a very honest tale about family. There is a lovely bit of generational hand-me-down regarding the guilt and grief of the two Rosas which is tremendously touching and rather moving when considering that for all the younger Rosa did to escape becoming her ancestors, her actions led her to be far closer to them then she could ever realize.
There is much food for thought in this play, and the haunting moments will certainly stay with you long after the stage lights go out.
Written by: Lucia Frangione
Directed by: Aaron Blackman
Producer – Owen Kingston
The writer was given complimentary tickets to review this production.