Pros: An absorbing real-life coming out story, full of genuine warmth.
Cons: The delivery was a little slow and so the play loses momentum at points.
Rachael’s Café is a monologue performed by Graham Elwell. It tells the real life coming out story of Rachael Jones, a transperson in Bloomington, Indiana. Having relinquished most aspects of her life as Eric, a salesman, husband and father of three, she now runs a café that bears her name and her uncovered truer self. We meet Rachael at the end of her working day. As she is tidying up and preparing for the day ahead, she shares openly and directly with the audience the difficulties and tender moments of her continuing journey of self-acceptance. (Rachael even offers the last unsold cookie of the day to an audience member – lucky them!)
Rachael’s personal philosophy is evident in the motto of the café: “everyone is welcome, no exceptions”. The set design bears this out wonderfully. Sunshine-coloured walls and the serving counter host an array of colorful menu options, a cheerful chalkboard, and a jumble of personal messages and postcards. There’s beer on offer, as well as a children’s play area. The stage looks like a real coffee shop and welcoming to just about anyone. You almost expect there to be music in the background. Yet the single sound effect was a ringing telephone. It occurs at several points to shape and alter Rachael’s current dilemma: whether or not to attend her daughter’s award ceremony as Eric or for the first time as herself. The resolving of this dilemma is the play’s most powerful moment, thanks in large part to Lucy Danser’s strong script and direction.
Danser constructed the script from in-depth interviews with the real Rachael Jones. Its success lies in the fact that it doesn’t focus heavily on the prejudice that Rachael has suffered. It opts instead to showcase the ways she is embracing who she is and her hope that her way of being doesn’t harm others. Her concerns for those she loves, her ex-wife and children, are the most poignant scenes. Graham Elwell performed the monologue believably, with a good dash of vulnerability and nostalgia. Unfortunately, nerves came through at points, pulling you away from the character. I felt also that the tempo was a notch below what it should have been. This adversely affected some of the funnier lines and gave the mind time to wander. I do want to emphasise that in spite of these criticisms, Elwell’s attention to the role brings out in the audience such a fondness for Rachael, and by the end we truly care for her and her predicament. It is also a predicament we recognize as perfectly ordinary.
The show was about an hour and ten minutes, but this was the right length. Its cozy and intimate feel was perfectly suited to the L-shaped layout of the Old Red Lion Theatre. A fringe theatre above the pub that is committed to offering up new plays that helps us reassess the way we live today. With that in mind, on certain nights there are also some post-show talks and performances for Rachel’s Cafe that are worth checking out. The list includes LGBT comedy, a Q&A with the author and actor, and a panel discussion of the ethics and issues in casting trans actors. Finally, if you (like me) are the sort of person who might feel terribly sore about not being that lucky audience member who gets the last cookie, you’ll be most pleased to know that there’s a lady handing out plastic wrapped cookies as you leave the theatre. So it is as Rachael herself would say: no exceptions!