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THEATER REVIEW Flamingo and Decatur
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-01-17

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Playwright: Todd Taylor

At: Block St Theatre Company at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: $33. Runs through: Feb. 18

Audiences whose notions of Las Vegas are restricted to tourist brochures may encounter difficulty accepting the concept of gambling as a career choice.

However, since playwright Todd Taylor admits to having himself once been a poker pro ( evidenced in the jargon spoken by his would-be "pumas" ), it's likely true that, in that particular city, it's possible to actually make a living by betting on card games, horse races and spectator sports—much as other entrepreneurs, in other cities, do on stocks, real estate or antique collections—and investing wisely to accumulate wealth sufficient to provide a comfortable and secure retirement.

Jackson and Ben aren't those kind of gamblers, though. Ben's impulsive tactics at online poker lead him to make reckless decisions, and Jackson—well, Jackson doesn't know how to have fun any way but impulsively. This is why, during a lull in their income-producing activities, the two buddies are illegally occupying a modest tract house abandoned to foreclosure, where Jackson engages in a wager involving health-fad regimens, while simultaneously training for an upcoming wager involving a golf game on the Diablo Canyon course. Following next-door neighbor Simon's demand for hush money to keep quiet about the squatters, Ben has his funds frozen by the Feds. The illicit landlords, with characteristic bro-logic, hatch a plan to take in an ask-no-questions renter—Nicole, who views her expertise at the late-night casino tables as an honest job. Good-guy attitudes can be infectious, though.

The moral distinctions of honor among thieves may have disappeared with Mamet-style double-crosses, but in the straitened economy of 2008—or 2018, for that matter—the boundaries of capitalism have grown nebulous, as have those separating ruthless hucksters from pilgrims driven to extremes by expedience. The alacrity with which the Block St Theatre Company, under the stereotype-free direction of Kevin Christopher Fox, persuades us to invest our emotions in the fate of these desert desperadoes renders this import from Fayetteville, Arkansas, an auspicious ante to a new year. Our itinerant heroes, by play's end, may still pursue livelihoods based in hope, luck and calculated bluff, but the tools of the trade have been divested of their fantasy, opening a path to a happier, if no more lucrative, home in the universe.


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