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Dealer’s Choice

October 6, 2011

courtesy of Pangdemonium Productions

My knowledge of poker is probably restricted to the basic 5-card game with your full house, straights, flush and maybe the Russian variant of 13 cards…without stakes. But that didn’t matter in the hand we were shown in this latest production by the Pangdemonium Productions team.

When the curtains opened,  I was duly impressed by the wonderful sets. I hadn’t expected it to be so exquisitely crafted with a kitchen that was almost like the real thing, the Italian restaurant (a section), and later in the second act, a total flip change into the basement where the table was set for the game, complete with a revolving centre. A lot of work and resources must have gone into that, and it was enough to get me excited of what’s ahead.

I liked the natural way the dialogue was presented. I enjoyed the restaurant toilet jokes most which felt so logically referenced, yet so funny. And how does someone write something out of a poker game? I believe Patrick Marber had put everything pretty well together in this first play of his. I’ve not watched or read that many of his plays, but I feel he has a knack of exploring relationships between people of varying backgrounds, letting them “collide” and see what would come out of it, like Closer.

The experienced cast (except for Julian Low, who makes his professional theatre debut here) performed well in their element. The accents needed a bit of getting used to though, but it was manageable over time. Personally, I felt Andy Tear was most natural as the goofy Mugsy, who was the butt of most of the jokes especially for his restaurant plan. Even though he was a “mug”, his optimism and self-delusions somehow gets him through life, and in a way endears him to others.

Talking about characters, the five guys couldn’t be more different. Sweeney Ted (reference to Sweeney Todd?) the chef who’s a bad loser. Frankie the gallivanting professional (poker) hopeful. Mugsy. Ash, the visiting brooding (secret) professional poker player. Carl, the debt-ridden prodigal son of Stephen. But they all have something in common; compulsive/impulsive players in one way or another at that, whether they admit it or not. As the game progressed, one by one their “true nature” surfaced and each dropped out of the game in due time (well, mainly when they lost their money).

Ah, then you have Stephen, whom you will realise was the one in full control the entire time. You could say he’s the biggest winner and he could well be the best player among them.
But he does it with a heart, and accordingly deals out aid and advice, keeping the balance between relationships, expectations and stakes. In a way, I guess we learn that winning isn’t all that important. The heart & relationships mean more. And Stephen seems like the best boss one can have. He just lets his staff work overtime to cover their debts (on the other hand, it could be a bondage). Another lesson learnt would be what it means to be family.

Lastly, it’s quite interesting to observe that at the end, no hard feelings remain at the end of the game. Oh yeah, tempers flare, but at the end, it looks like the cycle will continue. So it isn’t really about the game at the end. Maybe that’s how the dynamics of male relationships work, of which I don’t think I can ever fully comprehend.
(I don’t know if I’m guessing all that right and talking sense.)

Overall, I wouldn’t say it was super hilarious for me (maybe because I wasn’t that familiar with certain slangs), but there was definitely room for laughter and insight into human relations and pitfalls.

In poker terms, the ‘dealer’s choice’ is when each player gets to choose their choice of game when it’s their turn to deal. In life, it’s the choices we make that defines us as we deal with it.


Dealer’s Choice runs till 16 Oct and tickets can be bought at sistic.

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