Don’t let the title Chapatti throw you. This is the theater review and not a food column. It’s just that Square One Theatre Company in Stratford is offering a stunningly crisp production of Christian O’Reilly’s play Chapatti. While the title can refer to a whole-wheat flatbread, here it refers to the name of a dog. It’s Dan’s dog. Dan is lonely and suicidal. The love of his life has passed away and he longs to join her. He loves his little dog, and wants to find a home for it before he leaves this world. That’s until Betty, the cat lady, enters his life. Betty is also lonely but full of the joy of life.
That Dan and Betty quite literally bump into each other in the veterinarian’s office gets the play rolling. The bump releases a box full of brand new kittens and they run all over the place when the two main characters collide.
If you’re thinking that cats and dogs don’t really get along, or that dog people and cat people don’t have much in common. Think again. Dan and Betty’s hilarious meeting shows that not only can cats and dogs bring people together, but that pets can offer more than companionship. They can bring new people into lonely lives.
There are some sad moments in this play. Dan is continually thinking up ways to take his own life. He’s a considerate man, so he doesn’t want to make it difficult for anyone who finds him. Betty is such an agreeable woman that she is sorely taken advantage of by those she cares for. Her explanation as to why she became a cat lady will warm the hearts of the feminists in the audience.
While the story is a simply told, heartwarming Irish love story, it is raised to unexpected heights because of director Tom Holehan’s brilliant casting. Holehan took two of his absolutely most powerful actors and put them in the same show. Expect unbelievable performances. Al Kulcsar (Dan) has a reputation as an actor’s actor throughout the region, but his credits extend far beyond local theater and include New York, as well as film and television. Just knowing he is involved in the show in any way, because he can and does it all, makes this a “must see” event. In Chapatti, he pets and walks his dog most convincingly even though there is no dog on stage. When he’s sad, you’re sad. Nonetheless, Kulcsar will wind you around his little finger until he has brought tears to your eyes.
As for Lucy Babbitt (Betty), well she’s there to wring you dry. She is spontaneous combustion personified. Perfectly cast in this production, she wins over the hearts of the audience from the minute she steps on stage. As Betty, she pulls off invisible kittens to cling to her; reaches high for a cat when it climbs, and brushes soil from a cat’s back. All is convincing enough that your imagination provides the color of the kittens. Babbitt also has her fair share of credits. She is an exceptionally fine actress with natural poise and a smile that lights up the theater.
To find both of these super talented actors in the same production is an experience you don’t want to miss. So potent are their performances that when the 90-minute no intermission play is over, you finally begin to exhale. “Chapatti” plays through March 19. Box office: 203-375-8778.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]