Not all coffee is created equal, but it is a great equalizer. Whether it’s watery Folgers from a church-basement auto-drip or a Starbucks venti, it’s the beverage that people from all corners gather around to celebrate, mourn, get acquainted or just get through the next few minutes.
Coffee is also the theme anchoring the two-woman show “2 Sugars, Room for Cream,” a series of vignettes about women’s relationships ranging from giddy to touching, written and performed by local theater-scene vets Carolyn Pool and Shanan Custer. Now in its fifth incarnation, the Ivey Award-winning production opens Friday at Park Square Theatre’s newish thrust stage.
“Coffee’s a part of everyday life, but also every memorable event,” said Pool, reaching for her half of the pre-rehearsal scone she was splitting with Custer on a recent morning at Espresso Royale. “Weddings, funerals, dates — when you get that terrible phone call in the middle of the night, the first thing is, someone gets up and makes a pot of coffee.”
Not for girls only
“2 Sugars, Room for Cream,” is by and about women, but the duo get a little chapped when people try to categorize it as a show that appeals only to other women. While gender-targeted productions like “Menopause: The Musical” and “Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women” have their place, Custer said, their show is not “chick lit for the stage.”
“We don’t talk about our periods,” Pool said.
“When two men put on a show, no one asks them if they’re going to talk about their prostate,” Custer said.
“Or if they’re gonna quote Robert Bly,” Pool said.
“Guys who go in thinking it’ll be about how sad we are tell us they liked it,” Custer said.
“It’s got everything — debauchery, hysteria, you name it,” said Pool. “People say they feel like they just watched themselves having a conversation with a friend, and they didn’t realize just how entertaining that can be.”
With minimal props and onstage transitions, Custer and Pool play several different characters, including sisters who have grown apart reconnecting at a parent’s funeral, strangers on the light rail, a mother and daughter, and classmates at a reunion. One sketch has evolved from two 1940s pals enjoying their cups of joe into the same two watching themselves on TV in an old movie (a recorded segment).
They also each take a turn with a monologue as the other sits in the background.
“I think I’ll text and live tweet the whole time during yours,” Pool teased Custer, with a Kristen Wiig-style mischievous glint in her eye. “Yeah, I just might do that.”
The two radiate the kind of easy rapport of lifelong friends, but they didn’t really know each other that well beyond running into each other at auditions when Pool, late one night at a party where stronger beverages than coffee were being downed, suggested to Custer that they write and perform a show together.
Custer, seasoned in improv comedy after several years with Brave New Workshop, said she immediately warmed to the idea because she’d been wanting “to get away from playing the mom in every scene.”
“Great plays for women in their 30s don’t really exist in the American canon,” Pool said. “So we decided to make our own.”
After its inaugural Fringe run in 2009, where it was one of the fest’s most popular attractions, “2 Sugars” did a three-show run at the Illusion Theater’s Fresh Ink series, then a longer one at the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s small-house venue, New Century, for which it won a 2013 Ivey, and the Jerome Hill Theater in St. Paul. This will be the first time Pool and Custer will perform it on a thrust stage, so even though they’ve got the show down pat, they’re working on making the most of different sight lines.
“Most comedy is done on a proscenium because everyone needs to see your face or you’ll lose the funny,” Custer said.
While they have been approached about turning the show into a Web series, the duo’s next ambition is to get the script published and sell the rights to other theaters around the country.
The vignettes are universally relatable, Pool said, with very few requirements for the actors: “They don’t need to be white or from Minnesota,” she said. “They do need to be over 35.”