by MICHAEL J. OPPERMAN
The funny I expected, the poignancy I didn’t. 2 Sugars, Room for Cream is a surprisingly moving collection of comic vignettes draped over incidental meetings with coffee, and some harder stuff here and there (“I keep a spare in the trunk” does not refer to a tire).
Written and performed by Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool (and directed by Peter Moore), this Fringe Festival revival begins with a whimsical sequence of two women in their respective homes getting ready for the day: a little morning music, bleary-eyed coffee drinking, and outfit picking. Then smoothly shifts to a scene of sisters in a church basement after a funeral. With sharp dialogue that starts with the pronouncement ‘maybe, I’m an asshole,” they negotiate family estrangement, loss, and what it means to suddenly be an adult.
Other sketches include entry level employees skewering their supervisors (and later their supervisors considering the employees with bemused bewilderment), a college instructor on the first day of courses delivering a chimera of a syllabus summary and higher education diatribe, a high school reunion interaction, a chance meeting between two women in a cafe lamenting the influence of Twilight on the next generation of women, a few pleasurable musical numbers, and an interaction between two women during WWII who have shared a lover who is now at the front. The WWII piece is the least successful. One reason for this is the incongruity of the historical time shift (no other piece announces itself as sometime other than contemporary). The tone of the sketch is also more somber, suggesting a bittersweetness that is less tempered by the drollness of the rest of the production.
Throughout the work, the characters are differentiated and engaging. Lesser writers and more tentative actors might rely on stereotypes or reducing the characters to an emotional simplicity to get laughs. Custer and Pool don’t take shortcuts or pursue easy outs. We recognize ourselves and people we love in the women they portray – complicated, funny, lonely and loveable. In case there was any doubt, they don’t skimp on the hilarity.
Shanan Custer is likely best known for her long association with Brave New Workshop, and Carolyn Pool is an Ivey Award winning actress who has appeared on almost every Minneapolis/St. Paul stage. Their writing is incisive and comic timing impeccable, seeming effortless (which, of course, belies the tremendous work and rehearsal and effort put into the production). There’s a reason 2 Sugars, Room for Cream sold out every night of its 2009 Fringe Festival run.
2 Sugars, Room for Cream by Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool. Presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust’s New Century Theatre, October 11-November 11. Information at www.hennepintheatretrust.org.