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Theater review: 'Chinese Coffee' at the Flight Theatre

January 13, 2011 |  8:26 pm

Coffee "And what if I never spoke to you again?" That question at the climax of "Chinese Coffee" has reverberations that won't register in print.

Not surprising, since Ira Lewis' 1992 comedy, now receiving its Los Angeles premiere at the Flight Theatre, is at heart a showpiece for two committed performers. Not for nothing did Al Pacino turn "Coffee" into a 2000 film starring himself and the late Jerry Orbach, and director Jack Heller's brisk staging is most noteworthy as a vehicle for actors Guy Camilleri and Matt Chait.

We first meet Harry (Camilleri) banging outside the cramped Greenwich Village apartment (well realized by set designer Marco de Leon) where old chum Jake (Chait) resides. Aspiring writer Harry has just lost his doorman's job and needs unemployed photographer Jake to pay back the cash Harry loaned him.

As their colloquy unfolds, we gradually realize that what Harry really wants is Jake's reaction to his latest manuscript. Before he gets it, "Chinese Coffee" has moved from discursive two-hander about economic impact on artistic integrity to character study of a dissolving friendship that may never have been genuine.

Camilleri, whose hangdog demeanor suggests Paul Giamatti's kid brother, slightly overdoes the initial urgency but grows increasingly unpredictable, and Chait's laser-focused intensity meets him beat for beat.

Their interlocked turns are the primary reason to attend. Though facile in post-Mamet fashion, Lewis' text is wordy in the extreme. Nor does it really convey why these two were friends to begin with, let alone now. Nevertheless, fans of detailed acting may find "Chinese Coffee" a strong brew indeed.

— David C. Nichols

"Chinese Coffee," Flight Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 13. $20. (323) 960-7792. Running time:  1 hour, 40 minutes.

Photo: Guy Camilleri, left, and Matt Chait. Credit: Ed Krieger.