Theatre: Dealer’s Choice


Written by Partick Marber

Directed by Craig Ilot

Starring: David Webb, Sam North, Ashley Lyons, David Terry, John Leary, Christopher Stollery

* WARNING: Apologies in advance for all the poker analogies. Pun intended. *

Before a card is dealt you never know if its going to big a big hand or a small one. Taking the poker as metaphor for life concept and running with it, Craig Ilot’s production of Patrick Marber’s ‘men in crisis’ play Dealer’s Choice plays up a solid hand. It’s not a new concept, life as a game of cards, with skill, patience and above all luck playing a part in governing our lives. Marber’s script gives this a fresh outlook and sensibly does not spread his focus to far, but instead hones in on the regular Sunday night card game at restraunteur Stephen’s (David Webb) simple yet moderately successful restaurant. The weekly battle between the boss, his staff and his emotionally distanced son Carl (Sam North), takes a turn when a shady guest Ash (Chrsitopher Stollery) stays behind to join in the game, setting in motion a subtle shift in dynamics that threatens to ultimately undermine the relationships within the group.

This production is a successful restaging of Ilot’s earlier Old Fitzroy Production and keeps most of the original cast in tact. There is a resulting confidence in performances, centred around Webb’s grounded portrayal of Stephen, a man whose whole word is one giant hand. He uses the game as a way to reach out to his son and above all to maintain some human interaction in a life that has gradually become nothing more than calculated risk. The poker crew is ably fleshed out by Ashley Young’s hot shot waiter Frankie, who hopes his card skills will lead him to a better life in Las Vegas and who has a strained yet tender friendship with chef Sweeny (Terry David) who understands his all consuming addiction to gambling yet is painfully unable to resist its lures, waging the money saved for a rare visit with his daughter.

The comic relief comes thick and fast from hapless yet happy Mugsy (John Leary). And whilst Marber’s script casts large stereotypes around its characters, its Leary’s performance as what is defiantly meant to be the loveable idiot that borders closest to caricature. It is a men’s play, about fathers and sons, friends and work mates. At its best, it deftly explores the relationships between these men and the inherent power struggles as egos rub up against one another. To use a poker analogy, it’s about knowing when to check and when to call, when to pass and when to play and all the characters are prone to a rash hand. Iliot has shown with his previous work (most notably rock musical phenomenon Hedwig and The Angry Inch) that he can blend humour with a darker, more deep-rooted pathos, but at times Dealer’s Choice labours. At its best, and sometimes as its most silent, the production gets under your skin and makes you question not only the cards you have been dealt, but the players who you are sharing the table with.

You will love it if: you can handle going deep into your ‘daddy’ issues

You will hate it if:
you can’t handle an extended riff on the one theme.

Dealer’s Choice has just completed it run at Darlinghurst Theatre, Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point but you can catch it at Glen St Theatre, French’s Forrest July 14-25 and then at Riverside Theater, Parramatta August 11-15.

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