The set had the amount of furniture expected in an outhouse. A single chair and a suspended beam that looked more like a missing arch from Stonehenge was all that adorned the stage for Williamston Theatre’s production of “Chapatti.” But thanks to superb actors and dialogue, the play didn’t need any extravagant stage dressing to make it extraordinary.
“Chapatti,” by Christian O’Reilly, is the story of a seasoned twosome coming to terms with the stark state of their lives. The storytellers are two veteran actors who skillfully deliver complex lines in a stark setting. John Seibert, as Dan, and Karen Sheridan, as Betty, managed to captivate the audience. They took me on an expedition inside the characters’ minds, invoking a myriad of emotions.
In fact, “distress over acne” and “anguishing about what car to buy” were perhaps the only emotions “Chapatti” did not include. Loneliness, aging, joy, pet loyalty, remorse, compassion, empathy, depression, happiness, death, lust, the desire for children, bliss, loss and despair were all covered by the monologues and conversations of Dan and Betty. But most of all, “Chapatti” is a play about love.
Seibert and Sheridan took turns sprinting onto the plain stage in a manner that allowed for no pauses in the 95-minute, no-intermission play. Monologues often overlapped as one actor exited and one entered. When they were alone on stage, they had no helpful cues to work from. The way they mutually managed and magnificently maintained the massive mandatory memorization was, well, marvelous.
“Chapatti” is set in Dublin, and Sheridan’s Irish accent was the stronger of the two. It certainly helps that she grew up in an Irish family in Chicago. But there was nothing bogus about Seibert’s brogue, and neither actor spoke in a way that a Yankee would find difficult to understand. Those with a disdain for crude descriptions and language, however, should probably avoid “Chapatti.”
If the “F-Bombs” dropped during the play were real bombs, the Williamston Theatre stage would be nothing but a crater. Each profanity, though, was justified. “Chapatti” had a potent and honest tone that shocked and stirred emotions. It had a predictable finish, but some surprises and powerful speeches along the way made the ride an unexpected treat — although intentionally uncomfortable moments are also part of that journey.
Delivered in the round in a house with only 121 seats, the performances really shined. A less intimate venue would have made a connection between the actors and the audience impossible. As it was, I often felt I was being personally talked to.
Being close to the actors also made me aware of how perfunctory and unconvincing many of their gestures were. The way the actors pretended to write, touch pets, set a table, or tie a rope would have gotten them booted out of any decent mime school. On the other hand, Seibert’s crying and Sheridan’s laughter seemed entirely real. All the difficult facial nuances were nailed.
The play uses a minimal amount of music, costumes, lighting, make-up and props. But the strength of the actors more than made up for the lack of accessories. The clever and emotionally engaging script made a difference, too. Just as flatbread chapati, as plain is is, can be gratifying, so was “Chapatti.”
Williamston Theatre Through June 25 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday $28 Friday-Saturday evenings/$25 matinees/$10 students/seniors and military $2 discount. Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston. (517) 655- 7469, williamstontheatre.org