Frontera Fest

Jack & Coconuts, a tasty concoction served up just right

Jack & Coconuts, a tasty concoction served up just right

One of the offerings in the Frontera Festival’s  Long Fringe this season is Corey Kwoka’s new play Jack & Coconuts, directed by Charlie Diblasi. This madcap romp around paradise is a pleasing contemporary farce, which is always a recipe for an enjoyable evening at the theater. 

The show is running in Salvage Vanguard Theater’s open black box space. Set Designer Jeremy White established the world,  a destination wedding facility in the tropics,  using modular set pieces; the room transforms from hotel lobby to beachside bar to a cheesy wedding gazebo with ease. The work was performed in choreographed vignettes that keeps the pace of the play moving rapidly as the audience sits in rapt disbelief.  

The construction of the guests’ arrivals is deftly done — think of the opening sequences of that star-studded classic film Clue, by director Jonathan Lynn.

As the show begins, we discover that, this weekend at the island oasis, a second marriage ceremony is scheduled. Children, grandchildren, friends and relatives all arrive for the event. The construction of the guests’ arrivals is deftly done — think of the opening sequences of that star-studded classic film Clue, by director Jonathan Lynn.

Each hotel guest arrives, tumbles of suitcases and personal baggage in tow, to reveal a tidbit of secret sure to add to the tasty stew of insanity the playwright is cooking up.

The center of the play is the sagacious concierge (Devin Finn), who is worried about losing his job because of poor guest surveys as a new helping of wedding insanity descends upon him. It seems he will find scant support in the friendship of co-worker Caleb (Matthew Scott Butterfield), or self-centered and eccentric Cecelia (Ashley Rountree), who bulldozes onto the scene trailing her flittering side-kick Ethel (Whitney Blake Dean).

It’s obvious from the start how difficult this woman is going to be, no matter how much her friend tries to smooth things over in her wake. A pair of sour men arrive, separately, each introspective and brooding and not at all in a holiday mood. We eventually discover that this pair is father and son (Nicholas Kier and Zach Blackwell), although they have never met and, frankly, it's much more complicated than that.

A pair of ladies arrive, together, each vexed in their own way and separately driven to take full advantage of this opportunity to escape from their current reality. This is a mother-daughter pair (Rachel Reed and Mandy Murphy) who have relationship issues of their own to deal with. Ten minutes into the show, we all see the car wreck that is coming, but it is also pretty clear that none of these clowns are going to be seriously hurt —and there is a lot of joy in watching it all play out.

 There are echoes of commedia dell'arte, French farce and straight up sitcom here, as people move in and out of the space just missing the person they need or barely avoiding disaster.

As the plot builds, there are missed connections and confusions galore. There are echoes of commedia dell'arte, French farce and straight up sitcom here, as people move in and out of the space just missing the person they need or barely avoiding disaster. 

Once the play gets established, the second movement of the piece begins. It takes on a different flavor from the high energy opening; the guests and staff are winding down the night and winding up the plot twists as the playwright begins a pleasing verbal dance. 

Three different scenes stretch across the stage, connected in time although diverse in space. The three conversations weave wonderfully into a shiny tapestry; words and phrases echo in and out of each conversation until resolutions are made and the action leaps headlong into the next morning, where the intrigues of the night begin to have their consequences. 

The final piece of the play brings it all together and fulfills the promised madness of the opening. The wedding eventually bursts into a classic Three Stooges-style chase scene, but when all the dust settles, it seems that while not everyone has gotten what they wanted — they all seem to have gotten what they deserve.

There are two more opportunities to see Jack & Coconuts as part of the festival. For myself, I hope that someone will find a way to bring this work to full production. It’s not polished and finished yet, and could serve from the challenges of a full mounting and a long steady run. There are no profound insights into the nature of the world here, just a joyous play about the foibles of being human, an opportunity to laugh at ourselves and maybe let all that nature of the world stuff go for a little while.

That sort of entertainment has been destressing humans for millennia now, and its good to see that there are new voices putting it on the stage.

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Don't miss Jack & Coconuts, playing Feb. 1 at 9:00 p.m. and Feb 5 at 5:00 p.m. at Salvage Vanguard

Austin Photo Set: News_Dawn_jack and coconut_jan 2012_playwrite
Courtesy of Eric Morales