Intrigue, unrequited love, severed limbs, and chocolate cake that sends whoever tastes it into a spiraling crack binge of ecstasy are all part of the fun at Happy Café, the latest efforts from Happy Minnesota and Dangerous Productions, projects of Lacoq-trained clown Tyler Olsen. The piece, performed in a storefront on University Avenue in St. Paul, is filled with plenty of physical humor, a complicated and bizarre plot, and lots of laughs.
The piece takes place at the Happy Café, which is located on an obscure island and owned by a notably unhappy man named Claudius (Garrett Vollmer). The business is staffed by Charlotte (Alisa Mattson), the beautiful waitress who everyone is in love with; the sous chef, Sous (Brant Miller); and busboy Zane (Mark Rehani). Clientele includes the lesbian, martial-arts enthusiast Francis (Laura Baller Mahler). The café only makes one item: cake. It's so good it sends whoever eats it into a hallucinatory stupor of ecstasy. When news arrives that all ties from the outside world have been cut-off, the staff also learn that one hope remains: a visit from the judges of a prestigious cake contest, where the prize is 10 million dollars. Hilarious antics ensue.
At first, the title of the show and the goofy physicality of the piece may lull you into thinking this is a light comedy. It's not. The play actually delves into the macabre, and is rather violent. Through it's slapstick humor, it explores a darkness of the human condition.
The biggest detriment to the production -- through no fault of the director or actors -- is the mustiness of the space. It's applaudable that the company is seeking to enliven businesses along the Central Corridor area, bringing audiences into the community during construction, but the empty storefront has a rather horrid smell that permeates throughout. On the other hand, you kind of get used to it after a while, and there's a possibility that they will have the problem figured out by the second weekend.
Tyler Olsen, a terrific comedic performer himself (he was masterful in Live Action Set's recent production of Basic North), directs the small ensemble through a plot filled with vaudevillian tropes. Actors do plenty of pratfalls, adhering to the rule of three and double takes. There's even a bit where one actor, Rehani, plays three identical twins wrestling with each other behind a counter.
Image courtesy Happy Minnesota
Vollmer and Miller fair the best with the physical elements, probably because they seem to have the most confidence. Rather than pushing the jokes, they let the comedy settle, and get the biggest laughs. The other actors -- Mattson, Rehani, and Baller Mahler -- are also talented, but would do better if they trusted themselves a bit more.
The play would also benefit with a few more cuts. At two hours, it's rather long, and there were some erroneous things that didn't need to be there. For instance, the joke with the ninja speaking as if he were dubbing over a foreign language track is a rather tired cliché, and should have been one of the first to hit the cutting-room floor.
There was a pretty slim audience last Saturday night, and that's a shame. This is a very funny show, and they really deserve more of an audience. Tickets are set at only a $10-16 sliding scale, and you get a discount if you visit a Central Corridor restaurant before hand (bring your receipt).
IF YOU GO:
Happy Cafe 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, September 20-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, September 23 $10-$16 sliding scale Twin City Nail Supply 858 University Ave. W., St. Paul See here for more details