Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dealer’s Choice

Albedo Productions, with touring assistance by Critical Stages
Theatre Royal Hobart
Tuesday, 23 September

Stephenie Cahalan

I learned a new language last night. I’m not fluent but, like my Italian, I reckon I could get by. It is the language of poker. I also gained an insight into the insidiousness of an addiction. How it can forge a tight bond amongst fellow addicts that creates camaraderie and honour, but at the same time foster a viciousness that pits friends and family against each other.

Dealer’s Choice, written by Patrick Marber, is set in a gloomy restaurant in central London where small-time gambling and glamour have nothing in common. Presented by Albedo Productions and brought to Hobart with the assistance of Critical Stages, it tells of six men whose multifaceted relationships are both underpinned and undermined by an addiction to gambling. Each prefers to think of themselves as a little better than the others: Steven because he owns a moderately successful restaurant and knows a bit about life; Frankie for his charm and prowess at the table; Mugsy because he is eternally optimistic despite his universally-recognised status as a loser; Sweeney because he has a reason to not gamble; Ash for his aloof professional confidence, and Carl for the simple arrogance that youth affords.

Dealer’s Choice
is funny, sad and unsettling. I often felt a sense of dread at the impending disaster, lifted by little moments of redemption just before the mood got all too heavy. It has tightly-strung moments juxtaposed with ridiculousness that made me laugh with relief. Full of colour and clichés, the rolling poker-talk dominated the dialogue. Although I am not a card-player, I gained a little understanding of how the game acts like a secret club where you have to know the special lingo and rules in order to belong. The regular family of players created the bizarre dynamic of being both orchestrators of each man’s downfall, yet part of the scaffolding that helps him back up again. The lounge music soundtrack wafted through the world of delusion in which each man dreamed of the glorious heights he might reach with his winnings, while the reality of debt and the everyday life is kept at bay.

Every actor amply filled the skins of their characters and the artful script flowed beautifully throughout the play. In Dealer’s Choice each man’s gamble is really with himself, his relationships and his aspirations. The stakes are high indeed, and regardless of how each of the characters fare, I think the production is a winner. Tonight is the show's last night in Hobart and is worth the trip out into the weather to catch.

Director: Craig Ilott
Cast: David Webb, David Terry, John Leary, Ashley Lyons, Sam North, Christopher Stollery.

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