Review: Cool Beans by Solo Collective Theatre
Anton Lipovestky is quickly establishing himself as one of the fastest rising stars in Vancouver’s bustling theatre scene. At just twenty-three years old, the Studio 58 grad has already performed on stages including The Cultch, Firehall, Arts Club, and Bard on the Beach, and has seen his words and music presented by companies including Delinquent Theatre, The Virtual Stage, and now, Solo Collective.
In Cool Beans, the composer and playwright draws on a rich understanding our city’s hipster culture to craft a charming and hilarious one-act musical that feels completely of its place and time. Set in an independent East Van coffee shop (brilliantly evoked in Drew Facey’s design), it follows four young adults as they try to find the right combination of ambition, accomplishment, love, freedom, and authenticity that will unlock happiness.
The cast are four Vancouver archetypes, instantly recognizable to any B-Line rider or Main St. perambulator: Meadow, the ambitious, entrepreneurial coffee shop owner who slips away to yoga after morning rush; her boyfriend/employee Holden, a moustachioed hipster, more interested in ethically-sourced beans than any bottom line; Andi, an awkward university student in sweatpants and Uggs; and clean-cut Patrick, who pursued financial success all the way to Dubai.
The quartet could easily be walking clichés, but Lipovetsky, director Rachel Peake, and the talented cast find heart, humanity, and complexity in each. Having introduced nuanced, fully-realized characters, the play proceeds to lovingly lay in to them with every hipster stereotype in the book: fashion (wear something from the 1980’s with something from the 1880’s), feigned disinterest, cleansed chakras, and unnecessarily abbreviated words are all fair game.
Due to the verisimilitude of the characters however, an amazing thing happens: traits that normally annoy become endearing.
When Jay Clift’s Holden tamps espresso at a 92 degree angle (instead of the mainstream 90 degrees), it’s not pretentious- it’s earnest. Patrick, carried off with gusto and charisma by Josh Epstein, is obsessed with Infinitis (both his one in Dubai & his rental in Vancouver) but rather than indicating materialism, this reveals a flawed, compensating state.
The jokes still have us laughing hysterically, but from a place of familiarity and understanding, rather than remove and judgement. The night’s biggest laughs went to Katey Hoffman’s quixotic Andi, who could fascinate even while standing in awkward silence.
That these characters are so relatable in a world full of spontaneous song and dance is further testament to the quality of this piece. Gilli Roskies’ lovely, smokey alto voice sweeps us into the show with a driving, invigorating patter song whose immediate inertia carries right through the show.
The music itself is primarily pop, occasionally tinged with other genre influences. Melodies are simple and catchy, rhythms playful and heavily syncopated, and all accompaniment is provided by a single piano.
Cool Beans is an earnest, immensely entertaining evening that lovingly portrays and pokes fun at our city’s alt-culture crowd. It will provide laughter, warmth, and touches of insight for audiences across the board – even if you don’t own a fixed speed and prefer your jeans loose.
Running to December 1, 2013 at Performance Works on Granville Island. Click here for tickets & info.