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You Can Bet That 'Dealer's Choice' Will Draw You In

September 19, 2002|DAVID C. NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Poker without gambling is like sex--sex without orgasm."

This least shocking of the epigrams bankrolling Patrick Marber's "Dealer's Choice" calls the textual ante, and the enthralling revival at Third Stage in Burbank parlays the balance into a riotous inside straight.

Marber's 1995 debut play, first seen locally at the Mark Taper Forum in 1998, is marked by beginner's luck, drawing allusions to Harold Pinter and David Mamet. Though debatable, such analogies accrue credit from Marber's firsthand understanding of compulsive betting.

The game transpires in a London bistro, its dining room, kitchen and eventually basement slickly realized by Danny Cistone's split-focus sets. The employees prepare for work while discussing the weekly poker night commandeered by proprietor Stephen (Alan Safier).

Headwaiter Mugsy (producer James Henriksen) and chef Sweeney (Rich Hutchman), both owing the boss a bundle, reveal divergent stratagems. Sweeney's mate Frankie (Steven Sanpietro) anticipates winning his exit to Vegas.

The wild card is Stephen's son Carl (Caleb Martin), agitated for vested reasons. Then, closing patron Ash (Dick DeCoit) raises the stakes, subsequently trumped by the metaphoric showdown.

Director David Blanchard shuffles the exchanges with bluff assurance. The technical effort is top notch, with dialect coach Linda Brennan pulling sly regional variants from the cast.

Henriksen's rubber mug is ideal for joker Mugsy, as Martin's Edward Norton quality suits Carl. Hutchman and Sanpietro smartly husband their resources, and Safier and DeCoit are spot-on in their roles.

By expertly stacking the deck, "Dealer's Choice" deals a royal flush, for its players are all aces.

*

"Dealer's Choice," Third Stage, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 2. $15. (818) 842-4755. Mature audiences. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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