The 21st Century can be pretty scary and confusing. At times it feels like we are hurtling towards a more progressive society, one that embraces diversity and welcomes individual lifestyle choices. On the one hand, we have plays like Lucy Danser’s Rachael’s Café which are presenting a clear, engaging and balanced perspective on identity issues, advocating a deeper understanding, and hopefully, igniting a wider acceptance of them. Yet running parallel to this are proposals for anti-gay legislation, some of which are being seriously considered, and frequent reports of victimisation and physical attacks on those deemed not to be abiding by a ‘normal’, ‘correct’, or ‘natural’ way of living.
That’s why it’s so important to have work like Danser’s play which offers an honest approach to these issues, and provides an easily-accessible platform from which to learn and talk about them.
What’s so striking about Rachael’s Café is how fair and unbiased its perspective is. The play has been developed after hours of interviews with Rachael Jones, formerly father-of-three Eric Wininger, who runs a café in Bloomington, Indiana where ‘everyone is welcome, no exceptions’. Danser has eloquently captured the deep psychological impact of having to deal with rejection from friends, family and customers on a regular basis. However, what is most shocking about this tale is the guilt that Rachael feels because of the hurt and anger that others feel as a consequence of her lifestyle choices.
Torn between two worlds, it is in the conflict between Rachael’s life as a woman, and her role as a father to her son, Todd, that the real issue of acceptance is evident. As Danser’s play discusses, it’s a choice to dress as a woman, it’s a choice to wear heels and it’s a choice to put on makeup, but what’s not a matter of choice is the compelling and overwhelming need to live one’s life in that way. Just as Rachael is so uncompromisingly welcoming and accepting of others, it takes very little for them to offer her this same kindness yet it makes for exponentially more pleasant interactions.
Graham Elwell delivers a touching and sensitive portrayal as Rachael. It is an understated and inviting performance that brings warmth and an unrelenting ethos of resilience and determination, even when recalling Rachael’s darker and more painful memories. A few lighting choices are a little cliché, repeatedly dimming for each of these memories, and are perhaps a tad unnecessary for such a capable actor as Elwell.
Danser has captured a very real story in Rachael’s Café. It’s a moving and thought-provoking piece, devoid of sensationalism and infused with humour. Yet whilst the flow between each memory does at times feel slightly forced, the play’s overriding message and truthfulness are delivered with vigour and charm.
Rachael’s Cafe is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until Saturday 15 March. For more information and tickets, see the Old Red Lion Theatre’s website.