Monday, February 13, 2006

Limonade Tous les Jours: Charming Romantic Comedy

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger's Newsmagazine. All rights reserved.

“There is no such thing as an original play,” author Charles L. Mee writes on his Web site, . Limonade Tous les Jours, Mee’s 2002 play now running through February 26 at Diversionary Theatre under the auspices of MOXIE, the plucky women-led company that last brought us the fabulous Dog Act, proves his point. The plot of Limonade is about the oldest story imaginable — two mismatched people meet under chancy circumstances, find enough of a sexual bond to tumble into bed together, then have to work out whether they want the relationship to continue and, if so, under what circumstances — but Mee’s charming writing and MOXIE’s light, infectious production nonetheless give it the power to move us.

In Limonade, the mismatched couple are Andrew (D. W. Jacobs), a middle-aged American tourist who’s come to Paris to get over a bad divorce; and Ya Ya (played by MOXIE co-founder Jo Anne Glover), a twenty-something chanteuse in a local coffeehouse with her own recent exit from a non-working marriage with an older man who made her take his mistress for walks so he could have sex with yet a third partner in their home. Mee, a veteran playwright who was born in 1938 and premiered at least one script in San Diego (The War to End War at Sledgehammer in 1993), makes the most of the obvious contrasts between his two lovers — generational, national, cultural — and keeps us in genuine suspense as to how their relationship is going to turn out and whether or not it has a future.

MOXIE’s director, Esther Emery, calls Limonade “a love story about two people who know for sure that they shouldn’t be together,” but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Through much of its running time — an uninterrupted 80-minute single act — the play is driven by Ya Ya’s maddening style of speech, full of sentences that contradict themselves almost before they’ve quite got out of her mouth. Her first speech of any length — reproduced below as it appeared in the complete text of Limonade on Mee’s Web site, which published the play as if it were poetry (which in a way it is) — illustrates her character:

I mean, not that I have anything against older men
quite the opposite in a way
only I was married to an older man
and he took such a patriarchal position
and then I
I found I liked it
I invited it
so we had almost a sado masochistic relationship
which I found I just loved
he had other lovers
he treated me like dirt
he wanted always to handcuff me to the bed
and it seems I not only fell into a sort of dependent role
but I had sought it all along
so now
I’m trying to go straight
you know
grow up
have a relationship with another grownup person
as a grownup person
if I have any relationship at all
and at the moment I don’t have one at all
and don’t want one
because I’m still recovering
and you?

Most of the visually stunning elements in Emery’s direction, Nick Fouch’s scenic design and Jennifer Setlow’s lighting, are actually specified in Mee’s script, including the beautiful visual projections that suggest a forested park. Andrew, the prototypical American tourist, carries a video camera with him throughout and some of the projections, especially the ones in which the actors’ faces appear, represent the footage he has shot. The set is a series of rotating platforms and curtains that suggest outdoor cafés, bistros and the nightclub in which Ya Ya performs. For more intimate scenes, furniture — specifically the bed Andrew and Ya Ya have sex in and the bathtub in which they bathe together later in the play (there’s nudity but it’s tastefully done) — emerges from the back wall.

Limonade is vividly realized by MOXIE’s cast. Jacobs projects just the right mix of diffidence and desperation to be credible as Andrew — his obvious distress at suddenly finding himself in an affair with a woman younger than his daughter is perhaps the most moving part of his performance — and Glover is equally adept at projecting the irresistible force-of-nature quality Mee gave Ya Ya. One aspect this show has in common with Dog Act is that the performers — some of them, at least — are also required to have professional-quality singing voices. Ya Ya is shown singing two of her cabaret songs, one in English and one (Edith Piaf’s classic “La Vie en Rose”) in French, and a third performer, Arme Chandrru, generally impersonates waiters and store clerks but also has to deliver a coloratura countertenor aria as atmospheric background for a dance Andrew and Ya Ya do together. He’s damned good in a spot that, according to reviewers of other productions, hasn’t always come off as well as it does here.

Special kudos go to costume designer Mary Larson (especially for the lovely silver dress Ya Ya picks on a shopping trip), vocal coach — and local theatre fixture in her own right — Leigh Scarritt, and dialogue coach Danielle Cervantes, who managed to help Glover find a voice for Ya Ya without sounding silly, as all too many American actors attempting foreign accents do. Though a bit talky at times — reflecting the theatre convention that two people having trouble connecting emotionally have to tell us that they’re having trouble connecting instead of making each other (and us) suffer through the silences of real people in a similar situation — Limonade is as delightful and sweet as the drink for which it’s named. MOXIE’s press kit says they intended this production as a Valentine’s Day present to San Diego audiences. Valentine accepted, with deepest gratitude.

Limonade Tous les Jours plays through Sunday, February 26 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard in University Heights. Performances are at 2 and 7 p.m. on Sundays and 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Tickets are $15 on Fridays and $25 all other nights. A special “pay what you will” performance is being given Wednesday, February 22 at 8 p.m. For reservations or information, please call MOXIE Theatre at (760) 634-3965 or visit