When a playwright cuts their slice-of-life theater piece too close to its everyday origins, the danger is that the play will become a monotone and go nowhere — which is the case with Mary Tower Megna’s “staged novelization,””400 Pounds of Coffee.” The show lacks the dramatic action and conflict resolution to stand on its own, without two upcoming sequels planned for production at the Working Stage.
The story tells of retired longshoreman Jimmy Fortunado (Dick Bakalyan), recently returned from the hospital following a near-fatal heart attack. His son Nick (Rocco Voccaro) fights an unending battle trying to change the eating and drinking habits of his father.
Afraid to leave Jimmy alone, Nick employs his estranged wife Vita (Nancy Gianzero) — who hopes for a reconciliation — to keep an eye on dad. The situation gets sticky when Nick’s new love interest, system analyst Amanda (Tina Morlock), arrives unexpectedly to pick him up for a dinner date.
That’s about as complex as the plot gets, which is the flyMDBUMDRVMDUL in the ointment.
The cast, led by a riveting, intense Bakalyan, performs with focus and honesty; the actor strongly depicts the pathos of his character’s struggle to come to grips with his mortality and waning strength.
Likewise, Voccaro evokes empathy for his character as Nick attempts to become his own man in spite of Jimmy’s forcefully presented expectations. With her raw sensuality, Gianzero provides the perfect opposite to the coldly refined yuppie executive, played with ingratiating tolerance by Morlock.
Director Frank Megna’s light-handed, organic approach to the piece, avoiding strained contrivance, helps heighten the cast’s likability. Laura Reddy’s set warmly captures the lived-in atmosphere of the Fortunado household.
Playwright Megna should realize an audience shouldn’t be expected to come back to two more plays to find out how the lives of its central characters are resolved. After all, this is a play, not a mini-series.