Theatre review: Rachael’s Cafe at the Old Red Lion Theatre

plays rachael in rachael's cafe

plays rachael in rachael's cafe - Credit: Archant

“Rachael’s so believable,” said my companion after this charming show. “I feel I really got to know her.”

That’s a good thing – and a credit to Graham Elwell’s soft-voiced portrayal of Rachael as well as Lucy Danser’s heartfelt script – because Rachael Jones is a real person with a fascinating story.

You can visit her café in Bloomington, Indiana, to meet her yourself, or drop by the Old Red Lion, if that’s easier.

Fortysomething Rachael used to be Eric, a “manly” married dad-of-three with a stable career and wholesome Midwestern Christian, conservative values.


To many in this part of America, Eric “messed it all up on a whim” by dressing as a woman.

Rachael welcomes us inside her café and explains grippingly how things have been rather more complex – and life-affirming – than that.

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Elwell presents Rachael as humble, brave, funny, vulnerable and determined. She wears a worn denim skirt, white blouse, silky floral cardy, pinkish bead necklace, black tights and shoes, and subtle make-up. Her gentle likeability draws you in.

Rachael’s only agenda – or rather dream – is to provide “a little oasis” where everybody can be themselves, away from hostilities outside, irrespective of gender, sexuality, background, whatever.

Society’s prejudices can stay at the door too. Once, a Texan bully screamed “faggot” at her before beating a hasty retreat.

The joke’s hilariously on him, because she’s not gay. Lesbian? What do categories matter? “Some people are so eager to judge.”

By the heart-wrenching, visually dramatic end, Rachael’s struggles with gender identity, crucially caused by other people’s problems with it, not her own, become a metaphor for challenges most people face at some point to “be your own person”, whoever that might be.

Life’s too short to do otherwise.

Deep stuff, so why not chill at Rachael’s Café over a Venezuelan chicken salad ($8.95), coffee and “reverse chocolate chip cookie” while listening to music or poetry. “Everyone’s welcome,” she reiterates. “Spread the word.”