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September 24, 2005

In Review | Five Course Love

by Tidings reviewer Robert Miller

Chip Duford, Jill Anderson and Paul Hope are the cast of “Five Course Love,” playing at Oregon Cabaret Theatre through Nov. 6. The play is a series of five vignettes that explore the topic of love.

Christopher Briscoe | Submitted photo

A whirlwind trip through the world of love

Perhaps Shakespeare’s “If music be the food of love” was the inspiration for Gregg Coffin’s ingenious musical, “Five Course Love,” now at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. This offers a menu of melody and mirth — he wrote the book, music and lyrics — served in five diverse milieus. Thus we have two chairs and a small circular table set in different restaurants where the dating game is delightfully played out. One woman and two men actors each perform five roles in amorous permutations.

The characters, by the way, have been gaily caparisoned by resident costume designer Kerri Lea Robbins, who ably accentuates the motif of each vignette, be it Texan, Italian, German, Mexican, or American Diner. She additionally provides wonderful wigs for the woman.

The show is off to a cracking start, with the audience being wittily sued in song to turn off its cellphones and beepers. It drew warm applause. And immmediately after, we are in Dean’s Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats, where “A Very Single Man” comes in search of a mate (love attempted). Then we move to “La Trattoria Pericolo” for a dish of Italian “passione” (Love gone bad) and to “Der Schlupwinkel Speiseplatz” for a serving of German cabaret (Love mismatched, and how!). Intermission follows and then we head for “Ernesto’s Cantina” for a Mexican meal (Love misguided), thence to the “Starlite Diner” for the happy conclusion (Love achieved).

This melange is directed and choreographed by Jim Giancarlo with great style. One can see and admire his handiwork throughout. I loved, for instance, the pistol-shaped menus at the Bar-B-Que Texas Eats and the red and white heart-shaped confetti that descends from above at the play’s end. Note too the “horsing” around in the Cantina. Incidentally, he has rated the show PG-13 because the humor is at times a tad racy, but all in a funny way. Still, one might quibble with the designation as regards the darkly comic German cabaret scene.

Giancarlo has found himself an excellent cast. Jill Anderson, in her OCT debut, tackles her roles with verve and aplomb and has a strong singing voice of wide range. Her highlights include the slim and stylish Sofia in the “passione” and the commanding figure she cuts in simulated black leather and flaxen wig in the cabaret.

Chip Duford, seen at OCT last season in “They Came From Way Out There,” is the cook and it seems as if he is constantly being called to the kitchen where there is trouble, as sound effects (shattering crockery) underline. He is wonderfully woebegone as Heimlich in the German scene when two unexpected visitors arrive — first his girlfriend, then his boyfriend. There is a gentle pathos in Duford.

Paul Edward Hope, also in his OCT debut, once he has created “A Very Single Man,” uses his fine voice in a number of songs and duets, becomes the slick-haired and sleek-clothed romantic Gino in the “passione,” and then in contrast appears as Klaus, the boyfriend of Heimlich. Then he has a chance to flounce around in a sombrero and poncho in the Cantina during the legend of Guillermo. He is an energetic and exciting actor. More, please!

On hand to provide the music are Darcy Danielson (keyboards) and Jim Malachi (percussion), and as able as ever. Gregg Coffin’s dexterous lyrics and tuneful music do justice to his neat conception. It had been hoped that he would be present on opening night, but he was in New York supervising the off-Broadway production at the Minetta Lane Theater in October. Gregg is no stranger to OCT, having appeared in “Tintypes,” “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” “Archy and Mehitabel,” and “The Holiday Broadcast of 1943.”

The Oregon Cabaret Theater is also noted for its gourmet dinners, and the culinary ingenuity of executive chef, Douglas Todd, is evident in the entrees devised for “Five Course Love” — blackened catfish, chicken marsala, pork loin with apples, chili rellenos, and chicken fried Steak. And for dessert, besides the ever-popular Dick Hays’ Pie, there are cannoli, Black Forest cake, and flan (Mexican egg custard).

“Five Course Love,” then, with its zip and zest, is heartily recommended. The shows plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Mionday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday through Nov. 6. Gourmet dinners and brunch are available with advance reservations.