Snoop MK – Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts, October 31, 2014
A Dark Comedy of Biblical Proportions
Forbidden fruit. It’s a concept that’s at least as old as the Old Testament book of Genesis, and has been represented in many different ways throughout the years. The idea of wanting something you can’t have, and the lengths a person will go to in order to obtain the object of their desire, is dealt with in Robert Massey’s Irish comedy Chancers, which is currently being produced by Max & Louie Productions at the Kranzberg Theatre in Grand Center. Here, the object of temptation is that ubiquitous symbol of modern pie-in-the-sky optimism, the lottery ticket. It’s a dark comedy that explores some of the baser elements of the human condition, and it’s been given a sharp, well-focused treatment by Max & Louie’s excellent cast and creative team.
Aiden (Nathan Bush) and Dee (Pamela Reckamp), a married couple who own a small convenience store, are suffering the effects of a downturn in the Irish economy. While Aiden struggles to keep their store financially afloat, and while Dee prepares for an important job interview, both are worried about how they will continue to make ends meet and support themselves and their two young sons. Meanwhile, the wealthy, haughty customer Gertie (Donna Weinsting) serves as constant reminder to Aiden that life isn’t fair. When Aiden discovers that a lottery ticket he has checked for Gertie is a big winner and then tells her it’s not, he is presented with the dilemma of whether to tell Gertie the truth. A further complication comes when he seeks counsel from his opportunist friend JP (Jared Sanz-Agero), who always seems to have one get rich quick scheme after another. JP’s rather extreme plan for obtaining the ticket throws Aiden for a loop, and when JP then brings Dee into the discussion, the situation gets even more challenging. The action takes a little while to get going since the set-up takes a while, although the story really starts moving in Act 2, barreling forward towards an open-ended conclusion that challenges the audience to think about what we would do in this situation.
I’m struck by the cleverness of this script, which is being given a US premiere production here. With sharp dialogue and characters who manage to serve as individuals and archetypes at the same time, the material presents a strong challenge for actors and director. The story here is a fairly clear twist on Adam and Eve, with JP as the serpent. There’s even an apple very prominently featured in a key scene early in Act 2. Bush makes an appealing protagonist as the conflicted Aiden, who’s a decent guy just trying to figure out how to make his life make sense in a world that has become increasingly corrupted by greed, which is represented by the smug Gertie, played with much attitude and energy by Weinsting. Reckamp, as Dee, effectively portrays the frustration and conflict as she’s torn between siding with her husband or with the scheming JP. Sanz-Agero is full of forceful energy and wily manipulation as JP. His scenes with Bush and Reckamp are full of fierce humor and biting social commentary, as well as a very real sense of desperation driving his actions. These three characters are all desperate in their own ways, and that desperation is well-portrayed by this strong combination of actors.
The world of the play is very well-realized in the meticulously detailed set, designed by Margery and Peter Spack. The director and design team obviously did their research, as evidenced by the photos of actual Irish convenience stores on display in the hallway outside the theatre, and by the well-appointed set, which strives for the utmost authenticity down to the last little candy bar and bag of chips on display. The Lotto sign with its tempting catch-phrase of “it could be you” is an effective an omnipresent reminder of the theme of this play, and the constant sense of temptation resulting from the hope that a life-changing jackpot may be waiting just around the corner. The consistency of the Irish accents, courtesy of the cast and dialect coach Katy Keating, is also to be commended. The immersive quality of the production even extended to the handing out of free scratcher lottery tickets on opening night.
The authenticity of the production values and portrayals adds depth to the extreme sharpness of the comedy and the situation. Some of the humor here is downright brutal, but so is the desperate situation in which these characters are living. The situation here may be extreme, but it’s also grounded in reality. Anyone who has bought a lottery tickets knows that fantastical sense of “what if” that comes with the purchase, even when, inevitably, those tickets don’t win big prizes. This play uses dark humor to portray a universal aspect of the human condition–that of temptation and the dilemma how to handle it. Max & Louie’s production is at turns hilarious, shocking, and thought-provoking. It’s a memorable staging of a challenging, incisive play. It’s very much worth taking the chance to see.