Tina Farmer – KDHX, November 5, 2014
‘Chancers‘ ponders paths taken, hopes dashed and the changing luck of chance
As the global economy begins to rebuild after the recent economic recession, a lot of people who once considered themselves comfortable are finding it difficult to rebound. Max & Louie’s United States premiere of the Irish play “Chancers“, by Robert Massey, takes a darkly comic look at the very real, and sometimes very desperate, straights of the struggling middle class.
Aiden and Dee are a married couple with two sons, running a small market somewhere in County Kildare, Ireland. The recent expansion of Tesco and Aldi’s supermarkets into the area has cut deeply into their business. When combined with a loss of construction workers ordering from the hot food bar, their shop is on the brink of closing.
Aiden tries to put a positive spin on the situation, hoping that the couple’s luck will change soon, but Dee is less optimistic, and more than a little worried about the family’s current needs and future prospects. As a result, she has begun searching for a job outside the family business. Their friend JP, once involved in real estate speculation, is in even worse shape; he’s been reduced to sleeping on couches at his friends and relatives.
In contrast, old Gertie seems to be weathering the financial downturn quite well, finding ways to make a profit here and there. A wealthy woman with a mean-spirit and superior disposition, Gertie visits the market for Aiden’s sausage rolls, which he obliging makes for her, all the while throwing around derogatory comments and critical judgments. When Gertie asks Aiden to check her lottery tickets, he discovers that luck is once again in her favor. The story turns both darker and more humorous as the three friends plot to steal Gertie’s ticket and claim it for themselves.
The show is lively, with plenty of action centered in a single location, and director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga makes good use of the space, ensuring that the audience view works from every seat. Considerable movement and action take place on the single scene stage, and the set is beautifully detailed though slightly faded, suggesting the shop has seen better days. Designed by Margery and Peter Spack, with props by Rai Feltmann and art by Nichole Nelson and Marjorie Williamson, the space is filled with a forced cheerfulness, underscoring how much Aiden is trying to keep the business afloat.
The characters are clearly defined and the relationships well developed; there’s a genuine sense of friendship between Aiden, Dee and JP, and an equally palpable dislike for the presumptuous, overbearing Gertie. The story also artfully, and comically, delves into many of the unpleasant ramifications of modern life and a down economy. Though the audience laughs along, there’s an underlying truth to the humor that’s pointed and disconcerting at times.
Nathan Bush, Pamela Reckamp, Jared Sanz-Agero and Donna Weinsting are a wonderfully balanced ensemble. Each brings warmth and complexity to their character and they play off each other with an easy familiarity. Aiden is the moral center and focal point of the friendship while Dee is warm and nurturing, with clear affection for Aiden. The authenticity of their relationship is reassuring as the play spirals towards an uncertain conclusion, and Bush and Reckamp create a couple who seem to anchor more than simply their business, they represent a resilient spirit that’s key to creating sympathy for the three friends.
Bush gives Aiden a naïve decency and optimism that bends a bit at the edges, while Reckamp’s Dee is compassionate and eager to solve her family’s financial distress, though she’s also a bit insecure. Sanz-Agero is all action and brusque confidence as JP, but with a doggishly likeable streak and kind heart that belies the anger and resentment he feels. Then there’s Weinsting’s Gertie, feisty and arrogant, she gleefully dishes out insults and cutting remarks.
“Chancers” doesn’t promise an easy or happy ending, in fact, I found the conclusion puzzling and a bit unsatisfactory. I don’t know if it is the direction or script, but the story feels unwilling to make a conclusion, and at least one of the suggestions posited in the closing moments seems fundamentally contradictory to character. The ending may prove more satisfactory for other audience members, however, and the sharp performances and biting humor make for an enjoyable production with a bit of an edge.