By RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer

‘Dream Café’ could be a hit — depending on the audience

In Dream Café, playwright Alejandro de la Costa has turned real life into six vignettes about sex and love — anecdotal, quirky tales of one-night stands, online love and even a dramatic break-up. But how it plays out will always be unpredictable. In this café, the audience selects the order of scenes and that could lead to over 700 different versions.

De la Costa compiled these scenes based on conversations had or overheard, mixed them with composite characters and came up with a wonderfully poignant script.

MBS Productions’ newest show — at least the version I saw — centers on Bryan (Mark-Brian Sonna), a 40-something guy with enough going on to have hotties clamoring for him in real time and a "soulmate" named Sven from cyberworld. He has a series of mini-adventures in love from a drunken lovemaking session with a hot young buck named Tony (Kyle Roark) to a flirtation with a waiter and even a question of marriage to his pregnant friend Lila.

Sonna plays Bryan with enough every(gay)man qualities that keep him grounded in reality. At times, Sonna gets overly theatrical with gestures or inflections, but he’s refreshing as a "regular guy" romantic lead. The sequence of scenes that night played out well for Bryan as he teetered between feelings for Sven while another man is literally right in front of him.

As Tony, Roark has the job of being naïve, sexy, sweet and emotionally unavailable, and he somehow pulls it off (along with his clothes revealing some unbelievable abs) with astonishing ease. Tony and Bryan’s bed scenes are both funny and titillating, but also awkwardly realistic: Phones ring, unclean apartments, derailing conversations all happen but make it more real than any love scene this side of Hollywood.

Sven and Lila are played well by Michael John Collin and Jana Edele. Lila’s own story — she has a week to decide whether to abort her baby or see if Bryan will marry her so she can keep her job as a Catholic schoolteacher — is too heavy, leaving much unresolved; it ultimately distracts.

Collin is fine as Sven but strangely, the chemistry between him and Sonna mixes a less than the other male pairings. Their body language was less into each other and said more "I can’t wait to get out of here." The script saves their scene thanks to sweet words any single guy wouldn’t mind hearing and plays out tenderly.

Sonna is clearly the star here in every scene, but Ivan Jones gives him a run for his money as café waiter Kent. Jones puts on his own show in glorious hilarity and simmers down enough when he needs to for the quieter moments. But his comic timing and reaction is worthy of TV sitcoms.

Director Charles Ballinger directed this with a precision that gives the actors room to create worthwhile characters while knowing that one day they could be the hero and next, the heel. The actors execute each night differently with no time to convene beforehand, but Ballinger’s taken de la Costa’s play and turned the scenes into gems. The epilogue and prologue where Bryan talks to the audience about his evolution in romance from beginning to end could be nixed, but otherwise, Dream Café is a worthy stop — multiple stops, actually.

Dream Café at the Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road. Through June 19. $18–$21.

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