First workshopped at Orlando Shakes way back in 2010, writer/director Aradhana Tiwari's Way of the Cards has had more than its share of bad luck, facing cast changes and opening delays on its way back to the stage. But despite being dealt a difficult hand, Tiwari has finally debuted the full production of her new domestic drama, whose writing took her to the poker room of Vegas' MGM Grand.
Anthony Pyatt, Jr. plays our protagonist Tip, the passive pubescent middle child of Sassafras Arlington. Sass (Kate Ingram) was once a world-class poker player, but now she's a washed up riverboat queen, as worn out as a discarded deck with a hole punched through it. She still talks a good game, but the tables have tilted against her to the point that their electricity has been turned off. Tip silently snacks on cereal while his high strung, self-destructive older sis Tally (Olivia Richardson) rages, and younger brother Lucky (Gabe Patrick) studies how to cheat at cards. As the foursome gather around the felt that fills the space where their dining table ought to be, Tip narrates the family's fragmentation, with each scene structured as a stage of a Texas Hold 'Em hand.
Tiwari's show has a pile of chips stacked in its favor, starting with Tommy Mangieri's kitchen sink set and Zanna Paulson's chiaroscuro lighting. Non-players may find some of the poker patois a foreign language, but the lingo lends poetry. Ingram is excellent as the malignant matriarch, emotively manifesting her fall from brittle bravado to utter desolation. Pyatt and Patrick share a fraternal low-key naturalism, which balances Richardson's somewhat irritating intensity.
Way of the Cards takes a unique angle on familiar family dramas, but I was eventually disappointed in the plotting. A climactic twist is too telegraphed, trimming its tragic effect, and a too-cute coda cramps any intended catharsis. There's potential in these characters, but their story seems somewhat constrained by the clever card-based structure. We get tantalizing hints of Sass' backstory, but the single-act script doesn't have the breathing room to dig beneath the surface. Still, there's an interesting story here being told in a fresh format, so I'm certainly not sorry I sat in for a hand.
Lowndes Shakespeare Center
(812 E Rollins St, Orlando, FL 32803)
April 27th-May 6th, 2012
Thurs. May 3rd- 8:30pm
Fri. May 4th- 8:30pm
Sat. May 5th- 2:30pm
Sun. May 6th- 2:30pm
Tickets $15 / Industry Night $10
General Admission Seating
TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW at PlayTheMoment.com and can also be purchased at the door. The Box Office opens one hour prior to curtain.