Fine acting animates well-told tale of neighbors with pets — and pasts
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
The premise is familiar: Two lonely people who love their pets happen to meet and, guess what, fall in love.
But it’s the way the story is told and, even more, performed, that makes “Chapatti” an emotionally appealing, heartwarming tale of love and loss. The couple, played with unflinchingly honesty by Robin Goodrin Nordli as Betty and Michael Elich as Dan, give nuanced performances that never feel like acting. Be prepared to laugh, root for the eclectic twosome and, as the story unfolds, likely shed a few tears.
“Chapatti” is the current offering by the Rogue Theater Company at Grizzly Peak Winery in Ashland. In the play, written by Christian O’Reilly, Dan and Betty are dealing with unresolved romantic pasts — she a failed marriage, he the death of his longtime love.
“Chapatti” is aptly described as “a warm and gentle story about two people rediscovering the importance of human companionship.” It is all that and more. Under the direction of Robynn Rodriguez, who, like Nordli and Elich, has years of experience at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the one-act play is often laugh-out-loud funny but it’s also emotionally textured and sometimes intense.
The play’s title, “Chapatti,” refers to a thin pancake of unleavened whole-grain bread cooked on a griddle that is popular in India. Dan gave his dog the name because it eagerly gobbled chapattis as a young pup. Betty is an animal lover, but she prefers cats — as evidenced by the 19 that inhabit her purr-fect home.
Much of the pleasure, and the story’s believability, stems from the very real performances by Nordli and Elich, who off-stage are husband and wife. “Chapatti” involves other people but, like Chapatti and the cats, they are never visually seen. That’s something audiences easily accept because of the two actors. Both become their characters, whether convincingly petting or talking to their invisible pets, or bringing their eccentric personalities to life, not merely with words but, more connectively, through a variety of physical expressions — raucous laughs, wrinkled foreheads, pursed lips, expressive eyes.
There are delightful surprises, from the sudden appearance of Dan in a natty white shirt and tie to Betty’s form-fitting red dress.
“Chapatti” is a play that touches a range of emotions. The only disappointment is its short run. Following Friday’s opening, it returns for 2 p.m. performances Saturday and Sunday, May 7 and 8, then four 2 o’clock performances Thursday through Sunday, May 12-15, all at the Grizzly Peak Winery. In case of inclement weather, the scheduled outdoor performances will be moved indoors.
Because of relaxed Covid restrictions masks are optional and there is a mask-wearing section. Tickets are $30. For tickets and information, visit the website at roguetheatercompany.com or call 541-205-9190.
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com.