Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Men of Mah Jongg
Also see Rob's review of Singin' in the Rain
The protagonist is Sidney Weinberg (a strong Tim Reardon). Sidney has refused to leave his Upper West Side Manhattan apartment during the two years since his wife died. His closest friend, Marvin Epstein (the always terrific Ray Orley), brings him coffee and take-out every day. Not that Sidney is appreciative.
Sidney resents Marvin's attempts to get his friend back on his feet. They fight about it like Felix and Oscar. The battle is verbally intense, comic at moments, but essentially serious. Sidney wants to give up on life. Marvin won't let him.
The two friends are joined by a couple additional poker-playing buddies, Harry Himmelfarb (Phil Shortell) and Jerry Rosenthal (Scott Claunch). Each comes with his own set of problems, and both attempt to get Sidney and Marvin to quit bickering. No chance.
Everything changes with two events. Sidney receives an instruction DVD on how to master the ancient Chinese game of mah jongg. Sidney is convinced the disc was sent by his wife's spirit. He decides to introduce mah jongg to his buddies as an alternative to poker. The boys reluctantly go along and eventually take to the game. The other event is the deteriorating health of Marvin's wife.
These events bring about a role reversal between the old friends. Marvin begins to fall apart just as Sidney becomes revitalized. The two men draw closer as Marvin sinks into despair. Now it's Sidney who is trying to yank Marvin to his feet. Ultimately, Sidney musters the courage to leave his apartment to visit Marvin's wife in the hospital.
The core of The Men of Mah Jongg is Sidney's growth. And while Sidney attributes the changes to the spirit of his late wife, the actual catalyst is Marvin's crises over his wife's health problems. The crises forces Sidney to become a real friend, a larger man, a greater friend. There are moments of male support and friendship here that are not often seen in drama.
Atkins spends his play on rarely travelled groundthe relationships between aging men. There are powerful male bonds that exist outside of marriage. While Sidney and Marvin bicker, they also stick it out with each other through nasty emotional jolts. The two men are enormously lucky to have each other. They are also fortunate to allow themselves the emotional intimacy that helps each man face crushing loss.
Richard Atkins is too young a man to know so much about bad knees and multiple medications. Bless his heart for going into this strange territory of male friendship in the twilight years. May Richardwhen the time comesexperience the same emotional depth of friendship that he displays so accurately in The Men of Mah Jongg.
This production comes off an East Mountain run that included most of the actors and production team. That includes the well-honed stage management by Linda Leach and the excellent lighting operation by her husband, Jeff Leach.
The Men of Mah Jongg, written and directed by Richard Atkins with Mark Medoff as Dramaturgy, is playing at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St. NW, through June 24. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. General admission is $15. Senior and student tickets are $13. For reservations, call 505-898-9222. For more information see the Adobe Theater website, www.adobetheater.org.