Cafe Society/Us | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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Cafe Society, A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company, at the Cornservatory, and US, Open Cage Ensemble, at the Cornservatory. If a woman's too nice, she's likely to find herself in trouble. That's what happens in Robert Simonson's new play when Karen (Amanda White), a program editor for New York's Lincoln Center, hesitantly agrees to be friends with Lucy, a puppyish 15-year-old who works the counter at her family's gourmet coffeehouse. Lucy (Robyn Accetta) seems harmless, but it turns out she's as determined as a pitbull. She invites Karen to a party along with other cafe regulars, who come because they're afraid of being denied Lucy's heavenly coffee if they refuse. In attendance are the "dark intellectual" Nathan (William Mayer); Lucy's cousin Roald (Michael Buino), a children's author with a fatwa on his head; and the Secret Service agent assigned to him (Danny Dolan). Simonson has a screwball spirit, and his deft writing is deliciously funny even when the cast is not. Accetta, however, shows great comic timing--her sly performance is riveting. And Tina Haglund as Karen's friend cracks jokes with a wink and a pleasing tough-girl attitude.

The second act, which drops much of the daffiness, falls apart a bit despite director Jason Borkowski's efforts. Many of the characters go on a triple date at an Indian restaurant--a situation ripe for hilarity. But Simonson isn't interested. Instead he fills the play's second half with commentary on the treachery of service-industry workers and on what it takes to survive life in the United States (being nice doesn't work). At this point the play loses coherence, but Accetta manages to hold it together, keeping the comedy intact.

Also at the Cornservatory is Us, made up of Tim Reardon's three short one-acts about the American family and U.S. politics. But there's little original thought in this fumbling late-night satire. In the first act a seemingly perfect suburban family exposes its nasty underside, in the second a patriotic tyrant modeled on the current president starts a nuclear war that destroys the earth, and in the third a couple stranded on Mars re-creates all that's wrong with America.

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