'Chapatti' play a pet project

The power of companionship between two lonely pet owners is explored in the two-person play “Chapatti.”

Written by Irish playwright Christian O’Reilly, “Chapatti” has been billed as a love story, though actor Mark Bramhall says it entails a lot more than just sparks flying between two people. The Laguna Playhouse will present the production with previews Wednesday and regular performances beginning Jan. 15 for a two-week run.

“These are people that come to each other full of cuts and bruises and lifelong relationship failures that are profound. They come together obliquely out of the things they have suffered,” said Bramhall, who plays the lead male role of Dan, a longtime bachelor who lives alone with his dog, Chapatti.

Taking place in Dublin, the story follows Dan, who is mourning the death of a married woman with whom he had an affair for 20 years. Dan is withdrawn and heavy-hearted, and when he runs into Betty – played by Annabella Price – at a veterinarian’s office, both of their stories unfold.

Betty is a good-natured “cat lady” divorcee who fills her days taking care of an elderly neighbor and nearly 20 cats. A series of events unite Dan and Betty on several occasions, and an unlikely companionship forms between the dog lover and cat lover.

Director David Ellenstein said Bramhall and Price were excellent in the play’s 2015 West Coast premiere at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. Ellenstein, the artistic director at North Coast Rep, said he originally chose the play because of its “beautiful depiction of people at a certain age.”

“Mark is a consummate pro. He brings his skills and heart to the stage and emotionally connects with the darker parts of his character, so when he comes to the light, it’s very moving,” Ellenstein said. “Annabella is a charming, effervescent, over-the-top character; brilliant, funny, disarmingly engaging. She’s the crazy cat lady and she grabs it and has a good time with it.

“The set is a capsulation of both of their worlds,” he said. “He lives in a dark, secluded world and she lives in a brighter and sunnier world. One side of the stage is his house, the other side is hers, and they meet in the middle. It’s a symbolic set more than a realistic set.”

Bramhall said the audience needs to keep in mind that this is an Irish play that does not have a “cutesy, cliché love story” feel, but viewers will still leave with good feelings.

“This play exemplifies some of the best writing of the stage that is current. O’Reilly is a contemporary of (Martin) McPherson and (Conor) McDonagh in Irish writing; he doesn’t write in the dark vein that they do, but he is an Irish voice and I think the audience is going to enjoy how real it is,” Bramhall said.

Ellenstein added that the play has a message about the importance of human connections.

“I hope the audience will leave the theater discussing the quirky nature of life, and how if you leave yourself open, you can experience things in life you never thought you’d experience,” he said. “I hope they hug their loved ones and look at people they have looked at before in a different way.”

Contact the writer: jmoe@ocregister.com