Theater Review: ‘8 Coffees,’ Lightly Brewed

REVIEWED BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN

Oh, if only I could have a nickel every time “Glendale” or “Mercedes” was used as a punch line in an Armenian comedy. I’d pile up more coins watching “8 Coffees and a Date” than playing a loose slot machine in Vegas.

That this theatrical confection managed to deliver at least a few amusing variations on Glendale jokes – or should I say “the Glendale joke”? – is to the credit of Anna Mikaels, who conceived and wrote the vignette-driven piece. More showcase than production, clocking in at barely an hour, “8 Coffees” played a pair of year-end performances at the Grove Theater Center in Burbank.

The play traced the dating travails of Aram and Isabella, two strangers using the online service “Glen-date” to search for their soul mates. Disastrous encounters followed until our hero and heroine finally found one another, just like the title had promised.

The “dates” themselves were essentially a compilation of outsized scenes with a parade of zany characters, including a desperate wannabe-bride and a plastic surgeon prone to stroking his ego (and his chest hair). Their level of humor was inconsistent, but Anoush NeVart’s zippy direction kept the show energetic.

NeVart appeared in two vignettes, and her take on a traditional woman consumed with domestic chores delivered some of the show’s best laughs, as did Gina Petrossian’s portrayal of a self-involved fashionista glued to her iPhone.

The cast, as a whole, was solid, but the entertaining side-characters made Aram and Isabella come across as underdeveloped and, in relative terms, flat. Mikaels brought a quiet likability to Isabella, but Ludwig Manukian tended to over-punctuate the laughs in Aram’s scenes.

Hopefully, the show will undergo some adjustments before it returns for additional performances next month. The script’s observations about materialism, custom, and intimacy have occasional bite, yet they seem scattershot and will need focusing. Ultimately, however, Mikaels will need to raise the stakes for her central characters so that the audience will be invested in their eventual union – its inevitability notwithstanding.

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Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “Happy Armenians.”

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