Monday, September 25, 2017

Restaurant Review: Press Office Cafe pleases even the most dramatic critic

Scene: Curtain rises on the interior of a room at a coffee shop – a “hip and ethical lounge environment”, the audience program describes.

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar TimesPhoto: Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar Times

Downstage, frosted glass runs knee-high the width of the stage, to shade from audience view the knees of any sitting at six tall wooden stools along a counter. Further upstage: wooden tables, seating two or four (note: grouped tables must be separable into pairs during the course of the performance, to accommodate those without a place).

On each table sits: one (1) re-purposed Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin containing sugar packets; one (1) glass with folded paper napkins; one (1) small jar, roughly mustard-sized, containing three to four (3-4) purple and white flowers in water. Electrical outlets must be located behind each table (these must be used by someone at least once per performance to charge devices).

Walls – white, sparsely decorated. Think “gallery space”. From tracks in the ceiling hang bare round yellow bulbs, rather than fluorescent illumination; paintings, in indiscriminate states of completion, rest on an easel and shelf in corner near painting supplies, books and magazines. Paintings by local artists as well as framed retro prints (for instance, vintage typewriter advertisements) are hung (exact arrangements should vary between performances, suggesting engagement in charity fundraisers and other community initiatives).

Upstage, the upper end of a staircase cues audience we are not on the ground floor. From “below”, occasional sounds of soft clatter emerge: cutlery, the whir of a blender, a storage cupboard door swinging closed. This suggests coffee shop commerce but keeps it at a remove – focus is solely on-stage, on the actors and what they are doing whether separately or together.

Dialogue – in English and/or Myanmar – should be improvised, though certain themes can recur. Discussions should be of the kind that would be carried out knowing that everyone else in the room can hear but that no one will make it obvious they’re listening. If a character makes, or receives, a mobile phone call, the audience should come to intuit from the discussion that this neighbourhood is Yangon’s hippest, Yaw Min Gyi, without it being made explicit on this end.

Cast must differ with each performance, but must include examples of most, if not all, the following types: multiple YOUNG WHITE FEMALES WITH SUNDRESSES, some carrying belongings in fair-trade hemp bags; a MYANMAR-AND-FOREIGNER duo, discussing democracy initiatives; a local HANDPHONE COUPLE, pecking separately away at their mobiles but sometimes murmuring softly to one another while doing so, in a familiar and comforting way that’s actually kind of endearing; a male WESTERNER IN BUSINESS-CASUAL wearing rubber sandals; TWO GUYS who photograph their orders with their phones for two or three minutes (any costume possible); a LOUD COUPLE, who are just friends; a QUIET COUPLE, who aren’t; and a DUDE IN SHORTS, wearing a T-shirt referencing New York, bicycles or both.

Note: Any character arriving alone should, upon sitting down, immediately remove a laptop from a bag and place it on the table. Body language generally should lead the audience to understand the Wi-Fi here is impressively fast: Those not leaning forward to type should adopt relaxed but attentive “browsing” poses instead – one hand under chin, the other on trackpad.

After each new character enters, a young, impeccably mannered, Myanmar STAFF MEMBER should enter, at least one but not more than three minutes later. He or she will carry in the character’s order, which is to be improvised from performance to performance, suggesting a rotating menu which depends on homemade baking and the availability of locally sourced ingredients on the day, all prepared by the establishment’s owner, who covers the standards and has lived abroad while clearly having a creative flair and love of local produce.

Baked options may include the following: pastries, cakes, croissants, brownies, tarts, and cupcakes in a panoply of flavours – vanilla, Earl Grey, lemon curd with buttercream, peanut butter etc. Some orders, such as the carrot cake (K3300), should appear large enough to be nearly a meal in themselves, yet be, while sweet, not so sweet as to go unfinished to the last crumb, or to make one feel sickly upon finishing.

Also available: varieties of locally sourced coffee (any foam added should form extraordinary shapes, whether visible from audience level or not – also, once per show someone should declare his or her coffee’s flavour good enough “to die for”); artisanal infusions of tea, served hot or ice-cold, including for example “Fruit Splash” (K2200), with infusions of strawberry and papaya; or a variety of freshly squeezed natural fruit juices (depending on what’s in season during the performance).

STAFF MEMBER exits again promptly after dropping off or collecting plates. Actors on-stage must appear to eat more slowly than one ordinarily would, being predominantly focused on something else and approaching each bite as if a reward or motivation, rather than mere sustenance. Every plate, however, should eventually get cleaned bare, and some (but not all) may bus them back down themselves when exiting.

No noise should be audible from the audience/“street”, though the production may employ rain effects to suggest monsoon “outside”. This should not, however, disturb the atmosphere on-stage. To help the “vibe”, album cuts by Norah Jones, Coldplay etc can play softly in the distance, plus maybe that new band you recently “discovered” and also a few you don’t recognise but feel that, if you did, maybe you wouldn’t need to feel worried all the time about stuff and would more easily make friends with people like Natalie Portman or someone like that.

Between songs, spurts of typing are audible, but should be forgotten when someone talks or music resumes. The effect is of a library, but one where, if an acquaintance enters or a friend arrives, noise levels can rise without anyone looking askance or casting withering glares. The space should echo slightly when someone coughs, suggesting a soothing bubble of insulation from the world off-stage.

Each actor’s performance lasts as long as he or she feels it should last. Factors prompting characters to exit the stage vary, but may include: the arrival of a new group or individual which changes the dynamic of the room too dramatically; a song that breaks one out of the “lull”; sudden arrival of a FRIEND one had made plans to meet up with; or a change in lighting downstage, reminding one that the outside world does still exist, and that unfortunately there actually are other things planned for today, to which one must begrudgingly attend.

Performance concludes when the REVIEWER, in an unexpectedly productive mood (considering it’s still 32 Celsius in Yangon and he had a headache when he arrived), having somehow managed to finish a whole first draft of his review already decides to pick up banana bread on the way out.


Press Office Cafe
31-4, Plaza 31, Bo Yar Nyunt Road (south of Nawaday, north of Yaw Min Gyi), Dagon township, Yangon
Restaurant Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Food: 8
Drink: 9
Price: 8
Value: 10
X-Factor: 10