Carolyn Pool and Shanan Custer had an idea and brewed up a show that revolves around the almighty coffee cup.
We've all had those moments. It's a late-night party, the atmosphere is bubbly and you say to a friend, who at that moment is the greatest person in the world, that we should do something together -- something important. A road trip, writing a TV show, inventing a new mousetrap. Whatever.
Carolyn Pool and Shanan Custer, in their euphoric encounter four years ago, said "We should make a Fringe show together." Unlike most of those late-night pledges, though, Custer and Pool followed up on it.
"We met, we fell in love and we made a baby," Pool said.
Thus was born "2 Sugars, Room for Cream," their two-person show that started at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2009 and now is opening in a full theatrical run at the New Century Theater on Thursday.
Pool and Custer, now perilously close to becoming "longtime fixtures" on local stages, met through friends -- and would run into each other at auditions for "the pretty, funny girls," Pool said.
Pool had admired Custer's physical presence and dry wit at Brave New Workshop from 1999 to 2004.
"I rarely did the wacky character," Custer said. "I don't consider myself a crazy actor."
Indeed, she mostly played the long-suffering straight foil who played off the antics of others. Custer got to know Pool best at Park Square Theatre, mentioning in particular Pool's 2004 performance there as a brilliant but unstable young woman in "Proof."
"I thought she'd never work with me," Custer said. "I put her on a pedestal because she was a serious actor."
Pool laughs at the idea now, but understands that Custer was coming from the mind-set of a comic actor.
"People like comedy, but they don't respect it," Pool said.
"2 Sugars" was one of the best-attended at the 2009 Fringe, and the two actor/writers were invited to expand the work at Illusion Theater's Fresh Ink festival the following summer. Still, it was a short stint -- three shows. It was time to push for a longer run.
"We never got past the point where we had the heebie-jeebies," said Custer. "It's only when you have a full run that you get into a rhythm and really know what you have."
Friends introduced them to producers and, after many trips around town, Custer and Pool set their sights on New Century, a 210-seat house next to the Hennepin Theatre Trust offices in City Center. The Theatre Trust was starting to push more local productions -- most notably teaming with Minneapolis Musical Theatre to present that troupe's coming season -- and the fit seemed good.
"It feels good to be in on the ground floor," Custer said.
What's in a name?
The original title of their show was "Something About Coffee." They put a note on a theater website asking for other suggestions and "2 Sugars, Room for Cream" popped to the top of their list. Custer, with a keen eye on marketing, realized that using the number "2" instead of the word "two" would put them at the top of the Fringe Festival's alphabetical lists.
"Our whole idea was that no matter what happens in a day, there's always coffee," Pool said.
With that premise, they stitched together a loose collection of vignettes of women in differing relationships: sisters, mother/daughter, classmates at a high school reunion, a cosmopolitan careerist whoe meets a young mother in a park.
"It's about encountering someone and having a moment," Pool said.
For example, one scene from the original Fringe show had Pool as a diner who pleaded with Custer's waitress to write down her order rather than simply remember it. "My therapist writes things down," Pool's character said.
One aspect of the production that was born of necessity in the limitations of space at the Fringe is that Pool and Custer keep all their props and costumes onstage. The transitions, therefore, become part of the game.
"This show saved my life," Pool said. "I really needed to make something happen because I wasn't getting hired, I was going through a divorce and I needed to create something. Shanan helped to show me that I can do this."
Graydon Royce • 612-763-7299