Dealer's Choice | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Dealer's Choice 

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DEALER'S CHOICE, Steep Theatre Company. A poker game gives new meaning to risk-taking theater in Patrick Marber's taut drama, which proves the value of losing when what's at stake is more than money. As in Bleacher Bums, the players define themselves more through losses than gains, and a true father battles a false one for the soul of a son.

The scenes in Marber's intricately structured first act switch back and forth between the kitchen and dining area of a London restaurant, clueing us into how the game will mirror the players' souls. All are defined by their desperation, but especially the proprietor's son, Carl, who owes a lot of money to the sinister Ash. Carl's unexpectedly decent, tough-loving dad both tries to protect his employees from losses they can't absorb and learns that beating Ash at poker is much worse than losing to him.

Steep Theatre Company has a winning hand in this production: G.J. Cederquist stages the play with equal cunning and compassion. Though the script provides plenty of goofball humor--a headwaiter nurses a demented dream of turning a public lavatory into a diner--Dealer's Choice is more concerned with how action reveals character. The ensemble works well together: Alex Gillmor's doofus headwaiter, John Luzar's mutely miserable Carl, Brendan Melanson's self-destructive cook, Erik Schnitger's womanizing waiter, Peter Moore's amoral Ash, and especially Jim Poole as the complex father who understands which dreams to discourage--he knows there are no quick fixes. Dialect coach Martin Aistrope delivers pitch-perfect accents.

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