ORLANDO — The play Coffee And Cedar opens with David, an adult man at the peak of his career, revisiting the home of his grandfather Atun. This old house has enormous meaning for David, who serves as our narrator. Speaking directly to the audience, David recalls his childhood, which began tragically when the boy lost both his parents and was then raised by his grandfather.
It turns out to be an emotionally enriching life for David, who becomes deeply attached to a grandfather who was loving, nurturing, and his biggest, loyal fierce defender and supporter in all his many ambitions.
If that sounds like a thin and perhaps overly sentimental plot for a play, you’d be amazed at how deeply moving and impactful this poignant and very heartwarming production is. A lot of the credit for that goes to the two lead performers, Jon Jimenez as David and Russell R. Trahan as Atun, who take ordinary characters and transform them into someone you could easily find living next door, and who quickly become two of your closest friends.
What is the production Coffee And Cedar?
Coffee And Cedar helped kicked off the start of Orlando Fringe’s Winter Mini-Fest in their new ArtSpace theater at 54 West Church St., which enjoyed its grand opening ceremony on Wednesday.
If you’re a veteran of Orlando Fringe, you know their productions can be all over the map, from outrageous comedies to visually stunning dance shows to high-energy musicals. It’s an anything goes festival, and one thing that Coffee And Cedar proves is there’s also room for a play that explores human relations in an affectionate, evocative and soft spoken manner. Based on the book by Florida native D.H. Cermeño (who attended Thursday’s premiere performance), this touching production is one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen in more than a decade of Fringing.
David’s story really begins with two dilemmas: inspired by old TV shows and movies that he watches with his grandfather, young David finds he loves to sing like vaudeville crooner Eddie Cantor or to imitate the funny moves of silent film legend Charlie Chaplin. That inspires in David ambitions to become an actor and singer, which is no easy challenge.
Even worse, when he performs for his classmates, they laugh at him and bully him.
Fortunately, Atun thinks he has a solution.
David’s loyal grandfather assumes an important role in David’s life, and not just as his caretaker, but also as his biggest booster. He works with David to fine tune not only his singing but his stage presence. And with Atun’s commitment, it works. David wins first prize in a talent show; later on, he gets the lead role in a production of The Glass Menagerie. It quickly becomes apparent to David just how important his grandfather’s encouragement and support has been to his success.
As David matures into a teenager and then an adult, so Atun ages as well, getting older and more frail. That’s when David discovers a peculiar trait his grandfather has: he keeps a box in his dresser, and occasionally will take it out, open it, and inhale the aroma of what’s inside. When David questions Atun about it, his grandfather just smiles and says it’s something that assists him as he ages, and someday David will understand too.
I won’t say anymore about where the plot goes, except to note that both Jimenez and Trahan bring just the right tone to their spot-on performances. You end up caring deeply about both characters (likewise to Daniel Rosario, a child actor who plays a key role in the show.)
The director, Jac LeDoux, brings a marvelously warm and nostalgic buzz to the production that helps pull you into David’s sweet memories. Clocking in at just 50 minutes, it still had the feel of a much larger production that you find irresistible.
Tickets for Coffee And Cedar are $15 and there will be a second performance on Saturday at 1 p.m.
What is Orlando Fringe’s New ArtSpace?
On Wednesday, Orlando Fringe hosted a street party at their new Church Street property, formerly the home to Mad Cow Theatre. The city of Orlando now has a multi-year lease agreement with Fringe for the Church Street space, which will become their permanent home to bring in national touring productions.
Mayor Buddy Dyer was on hand for the celebration that included drinks, hors d’oeuvres, a DJ and music, and an opportunity for the artists to mingle with patrons. It was also the official start to Winter Mini-Fest.
The Orlando Fringe Festival is the oldest Fringe in the nation, and in 2022 celebrated its 31th year. It was created in 1991 by Terry Olson (who is now the director of the Orange County Division of Arts and Cultural Affairs), Andy Anthony and Rick Kunst, and held in 1992 in downtown Orlando.
The concept was simple: a festival featuring multiple theatrical shows, mostly done in venues in empty storefronts. In 2004, the festival started to relocate to Loch Haven Park, and from 2005 on, the festival has been held entirely in that park and in nearby Ivanhoe Village. It’s the longest running Fringe Festival in the United States, a 14-day festival held in the spring.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.