Newspaper Review

Lynn Venhaus –, November 8, 2014

A what-if comedy we can all relate to

For Irish shopkeepers during an economic downturn, staying solvent is a slippery slope in the comedy “Chancers“.

In this universal touchstone written by Robert Massey, despair hangs heavy at Aiden and Dee’s (Nathan Bush and Pamela Reckamp) convenience mart in County Kildare. Their livelihood is slipping away by the day, and the situation has become so dire they’re living in the back room with their two kids. A glimmer of hope appears in a moral quandary: a winning lottery ticket.

Only it’s not theirs and they didn’t sell it. A repugnant harpy Gertie (Donna Weinsting), who loves nothing more to taunt and belittle the townsfolk, asks Aiden to check her ticket. The numbers match those pulled for the $250,000 winner, but impulsively, he withholds that info, and then hatches a plan with down-on-his-luck pal JP (Jared Sanz-Agero).

The brass ring may be within their grasp, but they can’t figure out what to do — and if they should do it. After all, they would break the law and commit a sin. Dee, who is defeated by a humiliating job interview, chimes in, too. They all see dollar signs, but things get complicated, wackiness ensues, and you can figure it out for yourself.

Will the luck of the Irish befall these hard-working likable people, or will the old biddy’s good fortune trump their efforts?

Max and Louie Productions likes its comedy dark and daring, and their choices are intriguing. They are presenting the U.S. premiere of the play, which was a major hit in Dublin last year.

The play is funny and fun, but not quite an outrageous laugh-riot farce that could have been developed. We can all relate to the story, and the appealing cast sells the dire situation.

They kept us interested opening weekend, even when the action seemed choppy, the interaction tentative and the direction by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga not as fluid as necessary.

As terrific as Donna Weinsting is as Gertie, her despicable battle-axe character could have been even stronger — more crotchety and awful, in the vein of Ouiser in “Steel Magnolias” . Gertie is a character we can all love to hate, and over-the-top is OK in such circumstances.

Nathan Bush, who has made an impact on the theater scene since arriving in St. Louis less than two years ago, is credible as a decent guy trying to stay afloat and appease everyone’s demands. He is a graceful actor of much range and depth. He works well with dynamic Pamela Reckamp, who gives Dee a feisty, fighting spirit, and excels at delivering her colloquial dialogue. Jared Sanz-Agero is convincing as the schlubby sidekick, a conventional sitcom character that he makes his own.

Dialect coach Katy Keating has done exceptional work, for the Irish accents do not falter. Bravo to the cast for keeping it real.

The superbly detailed set by Margery and Peter Spack elevates the production, duplicating a confectionery setting in streamlined form, with function for the staging. Their recent noteworthy work includes “Freud’s Last Session” at the Rep and “Old Jews Telling Jokes” at New Jewish Theatre, and their “Chancers” scenic design is a highlight any time.

Chancers” takes risks, and that’s exciting. To make it truly memorable, the action needs to be smoother and conflicts amplified.

The bonus lottery ticket with each admission is a nice touch. No one loses, really, with such a fresh well-intentioned effort.