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Thursday 31 January
The Fringe has thrown up its first surprise for me, an idiosyncratic and ultimately moving slice of life called Inside the Cup by Seattle performer Aaron Pitre (at the Bok Choy Ballroom until February 10).
I say ultimately, because at first glance, and for the first part of the performance, it’s hard to know what you’ve got yourself in for.
Pitre plays nine characters, all employees of the Cosmo’s Coffee Cup chain of cafés. It’s Starbucks, of course, and the first person we meet, Cosmo Schwartz, is a thinly disguised Howard Schultz, the gargantuan coffee chain’s iconic leader.
Now here’s an irony. For seven years, the President of Starbucks International, the man responsible for rolling its coffee out across the globe, was a West Australian, Peter Maslen. About the only country where Maslen and Starbucks failed to take hold was his own.
That irony is self-evident as Pitre plays through his stories. Australians don’t get the Cosmo’s/Starbucks thing, don’t understand the appeal of the product or the corporate and employment philosophy behind it – it’s alien to us, and, as a result, the stories Pitre tells initially seem artificial and parodic. It’s only as they unfold that you begin to realise how close to the truth they actually are.
The guy with two postgraduate degrees who can’t get a job, except at Cosmo’s. The young, transgender Patrick/ Pepper who finds shelter as well as employment at the café; the tough New Yorker and gay Southerner who fight for their dignity from behind the counter; the migrant Indian doctor, unable to practice medicine in America, who works for Cosmo’s because of its health plan (Starbucks are famously one of the very few organisations in the US with a decent health insurance for low-paid and casual workers).
Suddenly, Pitre’s stories aren’t schmucky at all; they overflow with life and courage, and the extraordinary drive and optimism that is their exceptional country’s greatest asset.
This is an unusual piece, even for a fringe, and not everyone will want to stay its two-hour distance, but it’s got some valuable stories to tell, and some real things to say.