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September 30, 2014
Review: Chinese Coffee
Austin Pendleton and Sean Walsh in "Chinese Coffee." Photo by by Bobby Caputo.
Austin Pendleton and Sean Walsh in "Chinese Coffee." Photo by by Bobby Caputo.

Having seen Ira Lewis's Chinese Coffee nearly 24 hours ago, I remain catatonic in regard to relating the evening: there is simply too much to say. This is the kind of excellent two-character drama in which a galaxy of possibilities erupts every few minutes - just as in life - and one gets confounded in trying to bring cohesion to such realistic formlessness.

Not that the play defies theatrical laws of physics.  Lewis sets before us Jake (Austin Pendleton), a photographer of show folk, in his dingy New York flat in the 1980s. Demanding entry is Harry (Sean Walsh), old friend, scruffy (poor) novelist, and former lender of money, come to collect. But the pragmatic nature of this late night encounter gives way, in the course of two hours, to an almost obscene stripping away of the friendship's layers. We get: power conflicts; illusions and truths of mentoring; suppressed envy; not suppressed superciliousness; crises of loyalty; stubborn veins of affection; some nasty manipulation; shifts of confidence; and everything else friends are and do to one another. Or, as I so eloquently put it to Pendleton after the curtain, "You know, there's a lot going on up there."

Ironically, a problem with the play derives from this same implacable realism. We go round and round, circling, departing from, and returning to essential matters. This works in life because we are all very keenly interested in whatever is going on with us; in drama, there is a need for punctuation, for an arc promising some kind of order, and Lewis does not really provide this. But even to this considerable lack I say, from a visceral place, what the hell. Give into Chinese Coffee, keep your seat in that corner of Jake's flat, and let these two men live those two hours before you. Also as in life - sometimes - the rewards more than eclipse the sloppiness of the humanity, and the play is in fact an extraordinary experience.

Not incidentally, Pendleton and Walsh are individually and collectively superb. Ain't no other word. Louise Lasser's direction is as authentically modulated to real-life behavior as, well, real life, and there is a blessed absence of the awfulness of characters moving for the sake of movement. I would in closing like to be cute and say that Chinese Coffee delivers. But it doesn't, really. It simply is and, when a play is this honestly grounded in the realities and mysteries of friendship and disclosure, you go to it, and gladly.

Performances of Chinese Coffee continue through October 3 at Roy Arias Stage II Theater. For more information and tickets visit

At the Roy Arias Stage II Theater on 43rd Street through Oct 3.

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Written by: Jack Mauro
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