Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two Sugars is Super Sweet; Pool and Custer are the local Fey and Poehler

There is perhaps no better location for a play about coffee than Minnesota, with its legions of Lutheran church basements filled to the brim with bulk-purchased Folgers.

Two Sugars, Room for Cream, based off of a massively popular 2009 Fringe Festival show, fits this bill perfectly. The New Century Theater’s latest show braids together short narratives depicting memorable interactions around beverages. Coffee is the obvious focus in most, but the occasional evening whiskey or wine spree punctuates the morning rituals.

The vignettes (some of which resurface in the play’s second act) are of two types: either strangers-meet-and-bond-over-coffee or familiar-friends-reconnect-while-getting-drunk plots, most of which induce the audience to loud snickers. Particular favorites included Custer’s monologue as a frustrated professor who verbalizes her insulting thoughts to her students on the first day of class; the duo as two strangers meeting in a yuppie coffee shop, where Pool is discovered as a secret Twi-hard and Custer as a cheeky and opinionated patron; and a glimpse of what happens when high school memories invade a reunion and life does not go as planned. Two Sugar’s most poignant moment goes hands-down to Pool’s monologue as a mother recording a video to her unborn daughter, a masterfully realistic depiction of a private moment so powerful that the audience feels shy participating in it.

The play is performed (as well as written by) Carolyn Pool, who has treaded the boards of many a Minneapolis theater, and Shanan Custer, the most recent host of the local Ivey Awards and a Brave New Workshop veteran. Their natural, easy chemistry is reminiscent of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s best Saturday Night Live (SNL) skits, and it is a pleasure to watch them feed into each other’s alternately zany or poignant moments.

As enjoyable as Two Sugars is, there are a few minor annoyances. The set is a bit clumsy, where tables, chairs, armoires and more tend to seem more in the way than useful. One hopes that this layout will be smoothed as the show continues to run.

Length is also a bit off. Like Will Ferrell’s first few movies post-SNL, the two hour run of Two Sugars can in fleeting moments feel like an overdrawn 10 minute sketch. Some slight judicious editing in a future run could turn Two Sugars into a taught, intermission-less delight.

Although Two Sugars purports to be a musical of sorts, the show’s strength certainly lies in the vignettes. Custer and Pool both have passable voices, but they would be better served leaving the singing to the classic tunes that stream during costume and set changes.

Two Sugars, Room for Cream finds a perky middle ground between heavy drama and campy farce. It is a comedy that is (gasp!) actually funny, and the kind of show that black java or triple-whip-no-fat-iced-mint-macchiato fans can equally enjoy, especially if they like a shot of bourbon in their morning joe.

Two Sugars, Room for Cream runs through November 11 at the Hennepin Theater Trust’s New Century Theater in the City Center. Tickets can be purchased and more information can be found here. You can also find information about a special three show sampler pack of tickets to shows at New Century theater here.