Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Hardworking Daren doesn't enjoy the holidays due to some bad family events from his past. When his co-worker Trish has problems coaxing Daren into the holiday spirit, it is up to their local barista, who just happens to also be a "spirit-in-training," to take matters in to his own hands.
Playwright Brian Maticic's story is fairly simple yet includes enough plot twists, tender moments, and character specific dialogue to achieve a rich dramatic story. There are also some charming touches as well as a couple of comic moments that stop the story from getting too sappy.
Director Melody Chrispen does a good job of eliciting realistic performances from most of her cast. However, she should instruct a couple of them to slow down their occasionally rushed line delivery and a few of their over-animated gestures to allow the dialogue to be clearly heard and to make their portrayals a little more genuine. As Daren, Clayton Caufman is appropriately rude and self-centered to the people around him, though we occasionally see a glimmer of hope when he speaks to Trish. Caufman has the gruff tone of a man who is letting the tragedy he experienced ruin any possibility of happiness, and presents a completely natural portrayal of the changes that Daren goes through. Courtney Kenyon is especially convincing as Trish, making her not only genuine and lifelike but creating an honest, normal person in the process. Caufman and Kenyon are so good at portraying these people that you root for them and want to see them end up together.
Zachary Arnold brings a pleasant sense of playfulness to the part of the Spirit, a nice counterpoint to the seriousness of Caufman's portrayal of Daren. Arnold also has good comic delivery. Matt Clarke and Jessica Holt play Daren's parents, whom we see in flashbacks, and they both bring a rawness to their roles and create realistic characters. They are both exceptional in their portrayals, and the parts so interesting, that it's a shame their characters aren't in more of the play. As Bob, Daren's co-worker, and his wife Janette, Matthew Wetzel and Kim See create a realistic couple, with See quite good as the optimistic wife.
Chrispen has staged the show well. She uses the sides of the space for a few of the scenes yet ensures that most of the action is front and center to let the emotional moments resonate. She also is quite effective in getting laughs from the several comical scenes, especially one where the Spirit takes over Daren's body which is exceptionally staged and acted. Jordan Davis' set design features several moving walls and set pieces that change and rotate to fairly quickly and effectively portray both the interior and exterior locales. Costumes from Chavez Benally work well in showing the business-focused center of the story. There is a pleasant amount of background music that plays in the scenes set in the local coffee shop. However, at the performance I attended, it was just a bit too loud and occasionally overpowered the dialogue. Hopefully, it can be turned down just a bit to make sure that all of Maticic's realistic, character-specific dialogue is heard.
In Nonfat Soy Peppermint Mocha Latte ... with Sprinkles, the Spirit tells Daren that "love, cheer and friendship" is all he needs to truly enjoy the holidays. Brelby's production of this modern tale is a fine updated homage to classic Christmas stories, with very good leads, that gets to the heart of what those three simple words so effectively convey and how they are what we all need to not just enjoy the holidays but life as well.
The Brelby Theatre Company production of Nonfat Soy Peppermint Mocha Latte ... with Sprinkles runs through December 19th, 2015 with performances at 6835 N 58th Avenue in Glendale. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at 623-282-2781
Director: Melody Chrispen