Sunday May 19, 2024

Pick your poison: Coffee Bar hints gently that we no longer have a choice

By Amina Baig
October 19, 2022

Adapted from Egyptian playwright Ali Salem’s The Buffet, the play features an all-new theater grad class, talking about their hopes – or lack thereof – for the future.

“What I’m trying to say with Coffee Bar,” director/writer Usama Khan tells Instep Today after the final performance of his first play concludes, “is that ab paani sar se guzar chuka hai – I think the damage is irreparable.”

Having graduated just a month ago, Khan, like many of his contemporaries wanted to work with a text that would appeal to an audience because it was relatable. While studying the masters, classics, inventors, theorists, that laid the grounds for any course of study is an essential building block, once examined, anyone – men of art or science – should be free to pursue and present the theories and philosophies they believe in.

Though young, Usama Khan, along with Ashmal Lalwany, who plays a playwright in the three-man play, Hasnain Falak, who is the rather contradictory character as a producer, and Naveed ul Hassan, who plays a silent but efficient butler, make their point loud and clear.

The original play, The Buffet, is followed to a point, while Usama Khan reworked and rewrote some scenes to emphasize what was the crux of the story to him: the sheer helplessness of the common man when faced with displays of power.

The problem, Khan says, isn’t that there aren’t people willing to change the system, it’s just that once you’re in the system, given a seat at the table so to speak, chances are you will be coerced to follow the rules and toe the lines that you wanted to change.

“So there’s no escape,” says Khan. “The faces might change but perhaps the game stays the same.”

Coffee Bar as a story can be applied to everything. At one point the playwright’s character begs the producer to see how generally oppressive his rules were. “What if your son wants to write a play someday,” asks the writer, “what if your daughter does?”

The narrative is indeed a powerful one, though the production is not without its glitches. While the lighting was meant to be stark and startling, it often bleached out the playwright’s white shirt, and face.

Either the light needed to be softer, or wardrobe needed more deliberation. The play overall could have been edited to be more crisp, but to be fair, it’s not just that Coffee Bar is a good production for a first effort, it is a good play, period. 10/10 would recommend you catch the next performance, if there is one, especially if you’re politically inclined.