Sue Carroll Moore’s Café at the End of Time marks the return of prolific theatre director Marion Jones to Austin after 30 years spent in Los Angeles. On the stage at the Dougherty Arts Center, Marion creates what I imagine Cheers would be like if it was set in a Key West gay bar in the 80s.
The play is set primarily at Maxie’s, a lesbian bar trying desperately to remain open despite pending hurricanes and tumultuous clientele. The regulars deal with life's ups and downs while getting help and support from the family they have found in one another.
Through fully realized characters that believably gather together in Cafe at the End of Time, this specific but still universal play depicts a distinct period when gay bars were sometimes the only home for wayward GLBTQ Americans to be themselves. The play is also unique in its depictions of aging gay characters, a population not often found in popular culture.
Our main character, Flo (played by the efficient and resourceful Martha Prentiss), does a great job moving the play along as Maxie's primary bartender who introduces us to the rest of the bar’s patrons. Her counterpart, Tony (Kathy Rose Center) is the establishment's owner, endowed with a so-called “dyke godfather” complex, stuck trying to fix everyone else's problems. She’s trying to keep both the bar and her relationship afloat, all caring for her manic-depressive ex-girlfriend, Jill (Peg Patrone).
Tony's current girlfriend, Alix (Renee Brown), is incredibly patient and plays the voice of reason to many of the other characters in the play. She provides a helpful and humorous crash course on lesbian relationships to any straight characters and audience members who may have stumbled unknowingly into this gay-friendly play.
Through fully realized characters that believably gather together in Cafe at the End of Time, this specific but still universal play depicts a distinct period when gay bars were sometimes the only home for wayward GLBTQ Americans to be themselves.
With all of the background established, the show’s central focus then shifts to the love triangle between protagonist bartender Flo, a tourist named Gloria (Anna Maria Garcia) and Flo’s long-distance girlfriend, Adelle (Adriane Shown Deveney).
The mysterious visitor (Garcia) enters the bar because it’s the only one next to her hotel, finding an instant connection with Flo only to immediately learn about her long distance relationship with Adelle, who's in Georgia taking care of her mother. As someone who's been there, done that, the actors capture the frustration of trying to keep an LDR going on a small income.
The two love triangles provide more than enough complex drama for one play, but Café at the End of Time doesn't stop there. Moore's script also includes a subplot concerning conflicted gay men, so everyone gets equal access to heartbreak and confusion.
We're introduced to Randolph (Richard Dodwell), the male regular of Maxie’s who can apparently see spirits and who also falls for a prostitute named Jason (Jet Baker), who later robs Maxine’s. There’s also, quite inexplicably, an HIV-positive traveling magician (Robert Tarry) who conveniently whisks the troublemaking prostitute away.
The subplots are all interesting in themselves (if a bit fanciful and stereotypical), but anytime the play strays from Maxie’s for too long, I found myself getting antsy for its return. The play does finally come back to the bar, where everyone is faced with his or her issues just as a brutal hurricane threatens the Key West bar.
Café at the End of Time could benefit from a little trimming, but the play provides a lot of interesting, fully fleshed-out characters with earnest stories that every audience member is bound to relate to in some way. Jones proves her expertise in directing through her attention to her actors' distinct motivations and nuanced performances. Having her back in Austin is a boon for our flourishing theatre community as a whole.
With the closing of Charlie's in Austin, and the regular coming and going of lesbian bars in Austin — R.I.P. Sister's Edge II — it leaves us all wishing we could be where everybody knows our name. Thanks to the determination of director Marion Jones, we can experience that feeling for a short time once again.
Cafe at the End of Time plays at the Dougherty Arts Center for one more weekend. Tickets are available through Aus Tix.