by Josh Sandler
Junior playwriting and screenwriting major Andy Spector’s “The Poker Game” is a lighthearted, funny play about love and loss, but is unfortunately held back by poor representation. Written, directed, and acted with a clear sense of talent, it is unfortunate that the play lacks any fulfilling roles for women in the cast.
Centering around a poker game between a group of friends, the play is about one in particular, Caleb. Played by Drew Burt, he has recently found difficulties in his relationship with his girlfriend, Olivia, and had to break it off. He and his pals talk about their relationship difficulties and experiences with humor, as Caleb fantasizes about finding love elsewhere. The majority of the play takes place inside the character’s head, as he imagines his life with the women that his friends told him about from their experiences.
The group of friends, played by Lucas Yudman, Reynaldo Nuñez and Sebastian Singh, had a fun dynamic, and were entertaining to watch. Each performer embodied their character well, the individual quirks of each friend were noticeable and added personality to the play. The actors who portrayed the women in “The Poker Game” were also talented across the board. Ashley Driscoll, Karina McEvoy, Caroline Loftus, and Michelle Angelo felt like distinct, real characters, even though they are largely only presented in the memory of Caleb. Brooke Leibowitz succeeds as both an imaginary perfect woman, and as a confused, real person in the play’s final moments.
It is clear from a directing standpoint that Cayleigh Hearth, Duane Joseph Olson, and Christina Quoka knew how they wanted to present the material. Half of the performance space in the Southside Theatre is the game, while the other half is his imagination, lit and colored pinks and reds, the colors of love. Caleb simply walks to the other half of the stage when he daydreams. It is a simple, but effective way of presenting the story in a way that is easy for the audience to understand.
While the play is well handled from many technical standpoints, its issues become more apparent as the plot progresses. In an early moment of the play, the friends all explain one by one who their crushes are and why it didn’t work out for them. Across the stage, each woman explains who she really is, and it reveals a knowledge gap on the part of the men. They seem to not really be listening to the women that they think they know well.
For the first half, the play appears to be a commentary on the way in which men fantasize about women, creating a sympathetic character that was bound to realize that his idea of a “dream girl” isn’t real. Unfortunately, as the play progresses, it becomes clear that the scene indicating this existed for no other reason than a joke. By the play’s end, the character has seemingly found his dream girl, although neither character really knows anything about one another.
It appears to be an unintentional flub on the part of the playwright, however it is noticeable that every woman in the production seems to exist within the world of the play for the sole reason of being a potential girlfriend for the protagonist. In the year 2017, writing women in this way is cliché, uninteresting, and insulting to the talented actors that may take on these roles. If these characters were written with a sense of self awareness for how this looks, with a more critical eye towards their mentality, it would certainly be a more interesting play. “The Poker Game” is overall entertaining, and has many valuable parts to it; but its potential to be a truly heartwarming play is stifled by its lack of solid representation for women.