Brighton Fringe 2012
Involving and well constructed one-person play telling the true story of how salesman Eric became café owner Rachael.
This show is based on real-life Rachael Jones, once Eric, who runs a café in Bloomington, Indiana. As such, it is a kind of documentary, but the story is told in such a way that makes it a significant theatrical work in its own right.
Rachael chats to the audience while clearing up the café and preparing to leave for a family event. The significance of this event and what she will wear to it assume more importance as we gain insight into her life. Telephone conversations inject tension, as these are immediate, and provide a contrast with the more reflective relation of her past experiences. Some of these experiences happened years before, while others are more recent and Rachael is only just beginning to realise their importance. Her thought processes have direct consequences regarding what she decides to do at the end of the play. Although simply summarised as the story of a transformation, Rachael has not yet reached the end of her journey.
We may not see the most overtly dramatic moments of Rachael’s story directly depicted here – she tells us about those – but the choice to focus on a smaller family dilemma is just right for the purposes of the play. Normal, everyday occasions have become fraught with meaning and the potential for social embarrassment. Graham Elwell as Rachael convincingly portrays a person juggling society’s arbitrary demands with the need for personal integrity. He adeptly reveals many facets of the same character – the solicitous waitress concerned about the audience, and the exasperated father talking to his wayward son. Running through this performance is an air of polite consideration, but also of strength.
Theatrically, there are a few light touches in keeping with the rest of the play – the audience gets cookies (always a crowd-pleaser at the Fringe). Although Rachael is not a drag queen as she wishes to live as a woman full time, the traditional device of the drag act removing their wig and make up is used here to great visual and emotional effect.
One day, this play may be seen as a period piece as it is to be hoped that in the future Rachael would not encounter the same prejudices. However, it will still be of interest historically, and also as a character study. How do we grow and change while maintaining existing relationships? Rachael’s Cafe is a compelling portrayal of an ordinary person in an unusual situation, trying to do what is right.