Arts & Culture

A different audience targeted in Cultch production

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:44 PST, Fri December 13, 2019

Last Updated: 2:36 PST, Tue January 7, 2020

The Elbow Room Café was a fixture on Davie Street. For 35 years married couple, Patrick Savoie and Bryan Searle, served up hearty food and a sassy attitude while also raising money for A Loving Spoonful.* The humourous and entertaining insults from servers were just part of the atmosphere. 

Searle died in 2017 at age 87. The café closed permanently in 2018. But, thanks to the power of theatre, the eatery lives on in the Holiday at the Elbow Room Café in the Cultch’s historic theatre. 

Time was, when heteronormative culture reigned supreme, Davie Street and places like the Elbow Room Café were havens where people could let down their guard and let their true nature shine. When municipalities like Richmond had no such havens, people travelled into the West End to relax, meet friends, and find an evening’s entertainment away from judgmental eyes in their home community. The sassy service and accepting atmosphere of the Elbow Room Café was just such a place. 

The Cultch’s cabaret-style evening, lightly woven together with more of a theme than a plot, is the third in a series of productions about this iconic eatery. My companion had seen the second iteration two years ago and found it funnier, with more plot and with no need for prior knowledge. 

She said prior knowledge for the current version is definitely an asset. 

The quality of the performances is top notch. The singing and acting is spot on. Unfortunately, the piano was often louder than the voices of the women’s singing voices. The men’s voices rang strong and true, hinting at what zingers we must have missed when we couldn’t hear the women’s lyrics. 

A sign on the set calling the Elbow Room Café “a small room in a big city,” summed it up well. 

The pace is snappy, the set good, and the atmosphere saucy. The assembled audience clearly loved the show, recalling moments of their lives in the real café and the iconic duo who ran it and bickered their way through many a service. 

My companion pointed out that the audience was not the usual Vancouver theatre crowd or even the Commercial Drive crowd. She described this production’s audience as, “Younger, hipper and less theatre-y,” instead of the usual crowd which she described as, “whiter, older and straighter.”

So kudos to the Cultch for presenting a production aimed at a newer crowd.  

If you are steeped in Davie Street culture or history, or just a fan of the old original Elbow Room Café, or just like your theatre served with a side of sass, this production is for you as its former owners, Savoie and Searle, live again thanks to the magic of theatre. 

Holiday at the Elbow Room Café by Zee Zee Theatre runs through Dec. 29 at the Cultch, 1895 Venables St. Call 604-251-1363 or go to thecultch.com for tickets or information. 

*A Loving Spoonful is a volunteer-driven, non-partisan Society that provides free, nutritious meals to people living with HIV and co-existing illness, in Metro Vancouver and the surrounding areas. 

Go to alovingspoonful.org to donate or for information. 

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