Robert Salvador and Lucia Frangione in Espresso. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Robert Salvador and Lucia Frangione in Espresso. Photo by Emily Cooper.

While the idea of a sexy Jesus in the recent theatrical film Son of God may have been difficult for some moviegoers to accept, on the Pacific Theatre stage the idea of the erotic side of Jesus is being wholeheartedly embraced with a 30th anniversary production of Espresso.

[pullquote]”Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee” – Song of Solomon
[/pullquote]With text pulled directly from the Song of Solomon, playwright Lucia Frangione’s exploration of a woman’s relationship with God may come as a surprise to those not familiar with the Song of Solomon’s appearance in the bible.

“As Lucia says, it is pre-erotica hidden in the bible and something that you will probably never hear in a sermon on the altar,” explains director Sarah Rodgers with a laugh. “The safe bits will be quoted at weddings, but if you look at it closely it is incredibly erotic and sensual, as well as sexual.”

Without revealing too much of how it plays into Espresso’s story of a family coming to grips with the potential loss of a father, Rodgers does say that when faced with a crisis, people of faith and those without will both turn to prayer for answers. The real test comes in how they respond to any reply they might receive.

Closing its 30th anniversary season, Espresso is a revival of the play that helped save Pacific Theatre in 2003, a show that saw both a sold out run and enough cash brought in to allow the company to keeps its doors open. And with that history, Rodgers acknowledges her responsibility in both paying homage to the original, and in bringing her own vision to the piece.

Espresso director Sarah Rodgers.
Espresso director Sarah Rodgers.

“I do remember seeing the original, but to be honest the only thing I remember about the first production was the use of these gauzy ethereal curtains,” admits Rodgers. “I have incorporated that idea into this production as a nod to the original. As the one image that I remembered, I knew it would be important for me to use”.

Beyond a single design element though, the biggest direct comparison comes from the return of the playwright to the stage.  “It is daunting for sure. As the director you want to be the voice in the room that knows more than anything else,” confesses Rodgers with a laugh at the idea of directing Frangione in her own play.

But along with being daunting, Rodgers is also finding it very useful to have the playwright in the same room.

“She does wear two hats a little, but ninety percent of the time she is in actor mode. It is such a great luxury to say ‘can we change this a little bit’ and then have that discussion,” says Rodgers.

Having appeared in her own play back in 2003 during that critical time for Pacific Theatre, it was no doubt a forgone conclusion that Frangione would be back, something that Rodgers confirms.

“They really wanted her and Ron [Artistic Director Ron Reed] programmed it making sure she could do it,” says Rodgers, who is also quick to point out that while Frangione may be back, there is a new director, new male actor (Robert Salvador) and a new design team.  “I’m an Espresso virgin exploring the play for the first time,” she says with another laugh.

With a reputation for putting her own unique spin on a play when she takes the directing reigns though, it is a pretty good guess that any fear of comparison that Rodgers might have will soon be put to rest.

“My hope is that audiences who saw the original will be excited to hear the words again,” says Rodgers.  And no doubt hoping that for those that will see it for the first time can also appreciate why it once saved a theatre company.

Espresso plays Pacific Theatre (1440 W 12th Ave) from May 16 – June 14.  Visit http://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.