When Life is Not a Game: “Tuesday Night Poker” at the Studio Theater


Image courtesy SANDRep.

By David St.-Lascaux

In case you have moments when you forget that New York is literally powered by creativity, permit me to remind you that the stuff that impels you along isn’t ozone, or even Starbucks: it’s the collective energy of the talented, driven people who make this City so alive. A demonstration of this provided by Tuesday Night Poker, a play performed on a recent Saturday night at the Studio Theater at Theater Row.

Tuesday Night Poker, a morality tale with referential roots, is the collaborative effort of its five major cast members: Matt Brown, Adam Couperthwaite, Mike Hauschild, Nick Hulstine and Jon McCormick, directed by Ray Virta and presented by Ashley Straw’s SANDRep. As expected, early in the play we see the group gathered to banter, drink, play video games and poker, and commiserate about their material dreams. Seems they want to be successful actors (one a musician) – celebrities, perhaps. But instead, they have day jobs that aren’t going to get them anywhere anytime soon. To communicate their pecking order status, they are named Alpha, Beta, etc. To make a short story short, Alpha convinces the group to rob the bar where he works (his “Simple Plan”), and the plot winds out, ineluctably Macbethian, from there. Brennan (the non-Greek-lettered Man of Moral Compass) even quotes Lady M in a self-sacrificial, guilty soliloquy.

Given the youth of the cast, and the fact of this play by young men, about young men, acted by the playwrights themselves (young men), the performances are fresh, the plot and staging convincing, and the lack of moral relativism frankly refreshing (if not cosmically novel). In fact, it could be argued that precisely because you are watching a slow-motion car crash, the results of which you can precisely predict, that you are able to reflect in real time, and appreciate the acting in a way a more complex work wouldn’t permit. The subtle, back-of-auditorium muted trumpet interludes of Aaron Rockers hauntingly pervade the theater with a mood of growing gloom, and the sotto voce, faux conspiratorial back-to-audience delivery of homicide detective Che Walker intensifies Poker’s emotional manipulation.

Poker isn’t without flaws. Perhaps it would be a cliché, but the card theme isn’t used beyond the title – and the implied stakes, at least not explicitly. And only in a play by five young bucks about the state of stagdom could the sole female role be lineless (correction: the female bartender played by Ms. Straw vocalizes two non-verbal screams). (In fairness, the other bartender, Angelo Alban, is permitted only a resigned grimace as his mouth is duct taped.) That’s not to say that women are absent: Beta is married, and his wife and child remotely ground him. On the other hand, T&A drivel is thankfully absent, while the f-word, which abounds, is unforced.

Within the constraints of the production’s limited scale, the lighting by Kyle Leacock and stage management by Rome Brown and Sarah Blum are natural and hitchless.

All in all, Poker is excellent theater: human weakness results in classical tragedy; the audience sees itself in the actors’ situations and empathizes with the flawed characters; and the twist at the end – unexpected, if not unpredictable – is intentionally unsatisfying. Deal me in: creativity should always be so powerful.

– D S-L

* * *

Leave a Reply