Review: Wayne Gretzky Never Takes It Black charms audiences in both English and French

Language and coffee are combined in Wayne Gretzky Never Takes It Black, a new play by Issie Patterson. Set around the closing of a bilingual café in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the show was directed by Madelaine Walker and ran in the 2018 Cascadia Project Festival, created by UBC creative writing professor Bryan Wade.

The play opens with Rowan and Carmen, two baristas at the Chez Sophie café, lamenting their boss’s decision to sell the coffee shop after the passing of his wife. Rowan, played by Kyle John Brogan, and Carmen, played by Elana Malbrito, have great chemistry — especially when the two of them decry the inferior coffee found at Starbucks and Tim Hortons. The title is in fact a reference to a secret and unappetizing coffee that can be ordered at your local Timmies.

They put together a plan to buy Chez Sophie with the help of Anders, a Norwegian exchange student and regular at the café. All they need is luck and approximately $30,000. Carmen, the most realistic of the three, tries to convince the others to not get their hopes up, while Anders — played by Haris Amiri — makes a plea for optimism.

Things seem to fall into place when Mel Montaigne, a famous Montreal-based film actor originally from Sherbrooke, visits to pay his last respects to the café. Played by Gilles Nduwimana, Montaigne plays the star off-put by his adoring fans well. The show also features the voices of Nathan Smith and Anaïs Collin as Edward and Sophie respectively, the owners of the café.

A theme of the show is the parallel use of English and French: the characters — except for Rowan, to his chagrin — have mastered both languages. The fate of the café may even depend on a cipher in French, in the form of a flavour wheel left by Sophie.

Wayne Gretzky Never Takes It Black is a charming story about hope, loss, languages and good coffee.