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The Men of Mah Jongg

a Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by Richard Atkins

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Roswell Cultural Arts Center
ID# 3505

SHOWING : January 07, 2010 - January 24, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

In this endearing comedy about lasting friendship, four aging Jewish men clash during their poker game until they secretly trade their cards for a mah-jongg set. As they play the traditionally female game, they find themselves coming to terms with grief, mortality, and their "more sensitive sides." In the tradition of the ’09 hit Southern Comforts, this charming tale will tickle your spirits and warm your heart.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director James Donadio
Sidney Steve Coulter
Jerry Kevin Dougherty
Harry Jon Kohler
Marvin Peter Thomasson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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The Men of Mah Jongg (THEATRE REVIEW): An Enjoyable Roller-Coaster Ride
by Jer
Monday, July 11, 2011
5.0
I braved a very rare, snow and sleet storm in January of 2010 to see "The Men of Mah Jongg" at Georgia Ensemble. It was well worth the risk, but I see that the Atlanta Times Review for the play by John McCurdy, which is on the play's website, momj.vpweb.com/About-Us.html is no longer on the internet for some reason. According to the play's website, the play continues to travel around the country and for people who did not see Mr. McCurdy's review from the Atlanta Jewish Times and for friends and family who are in other parts of the country where the play is coming, I thought I would post it as this sums up my sentiments exactly in regards to this funny, poignant play.

The Men of Mah Jongg (THEATRE REVIEW): An Enjoyable Roller-Coaster Ride
by John McCurdy

Emotions swing like a pendulum in Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s The Men of Mah Jongg, but there’s also an element of consistency. From start to finish, this is a play that is both touching and thought-provoking. Playwright Richard Atkins’ work defies classification, as it’s equal parts tearful and cheerful, the poignant matching the hilarious step-for-step.

The concept lends itself to some morbid thoughts. The only characters are four Jewish New Yorkers nearing the ends of their lives, and each has his own problems. Sidney (Steve Coulter) lost his wife and hasn’t left his apartment since; Marvin (Peter Thomasson) is coping with his wife’s illness and Sid’s agoraphobia; Harry (Jon Kohler) is recovering from surgery and dealing with a career decision; and Jerry (Kevin Doughtery) is looking for love in the wrong places while struggling to make a buck.

They find some happiness and laughs with each other, but it isn’t until Sidney, inspired by his late beloved’s hobby, replaces their weekly poker game with mah jongg that they really start to come together. The game “invented by Chinese men and stolen by Jewish women,” as Marv would say, serves as a starting point for bonding and self-discovery.

All of the action occurs in Sidney’s apartment, as, for a long time, he refuses to venture outside. The production isn’t hampered at all by having just one set, however, due to imaginative use of off-stage antics and terrific set design. The five scenes, each separated by about a week in the play’s timeline, perfectly convey the passage of time and chronicle the characters’ steps toward overcoming their fears.

The real highlight, though, is the dialogue. It’s uncommon for stage drama to capture the essence of regular conversation so well. The back-and-forth is solid; it really is as though the audience is watching four friends talk. The believability is further enhanced by the actors’ terrific delivery as they respond and interject naturally.

The twilight of life is not the subject of choice for the performing arts these days, but that makes The Men of Mah Jongg all the more worthy of taking in. The way it encapsulates comedy and drama, relationships and conflicts, and life and death with just four guys around a gaming table is definitely special. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Found new link to Atlanta Times Review of "The Men of Mah Jongg" by Jer
http://atljewishtimes55.1upprelaunch.com/main.asp?SectionID=108&SubSectionID=243&ArticleID=6506
Saw play in Scranton 2008! Now I live in Atlanta and missed it!
by Alan Hirshberg
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
5.0
Funny thing. I attended the World Premiere of "The Men of Mah Jongg" in Scranton in 2008 and both my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the production. In early 2009, my wife got a great job in Atlanta at the University, so we moved here and away from those freezing winters in Scranton. Little did we know this play would follow us, yet we didn't hear about it until after it had come and gone. I was doing some internet searching about plays I had seen in the past, and the first link that popped up were reviews for "The Men of Mah Jongg" on theaterreview.com.
I can't review this production in Georgia, but if it was anything like the World Premiere, it's a heck of a play and a virtual 5. By the other comments, people here in Atlanta enjoyed it as well. For people reading this, I found the play's website during my internet search.
Go to:

www.momj.vpweb.com/about_us.html

for further info on the play and where it's headed next, which I believe is LA. Scranton was an ok theatre town, but since we moved here, Atlanta seems to be chock full of great theatre! Since I'm retired and my wife isn't, I look forward to attending many a great musical or play, mostly solo I imagine! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
A HOME RUN, A TOUCHDOWN, A HOLE IN ONE!
by Sarah Statler
Monday, February 1, 2010
5.0
My husband and I drove up from Jacksonville to visit family in Roswell. We started out on the road quite early as it is a long ride to Atlanta, but when we finally arrived at my sister’s house, she surprised my husband and I with theatre tickets to a play I had never heard of. “The Men of Mah Jongg.”

My husband Jack and I were quite tired, but we figured we just had to sit in a theatre for two hours and be entertained. And boy, were we! The play was so fantastic, both my husband and I and my sister Rose and her husband Paul talked about it the whole way home. We even had a discussion about the play over drinks when we got back.

It got both Paul and Jack talking about their poker game and how interesting it was to them that the game of Mah Jongg helped these men come to terms with a lot of issues including grief, loss, friendship and most of all, hope for the future. At our age, it’s not easy to have hope for the future, but the play was inspired by its sense of humor coupled with how the writer handled the tragic aspects of what Sid, the main character is going through with the loss of his wife.

Then comes Marv with the issues he has with his wife Eloise, and you’ve got a tennis match of emotions and role switching. At the beginning of the play, Marv is Sid’s caregiver and then towards the end, Marv desperately needs Sid’s shoulder to literally cry on and the actor who played Marv did such a wonderful job. Of course, the main character of Sid was played wonderfully and if there was an Academy Award for regional theatre actors, he should get it. Oh, my husband just read his name from the program. Steve Coulter. Bravo Steve!

The other actors were very funny in their own right as well. The man who finds himself playing the role of an Alzheimers victim in a new play is hilarious, in spite of the subject matter. And Jerry, the guy who sings his life through song (and the same melody no less throughout the whole play) never gets old, meaning the joke doesn’t get old.

Between the ages of 7 until my 14th birthday, we had an apartment on the Upper West Side, 98th and Central Park West. The set made me homesick for Manhattan. So, bravo to the set designer. And Bravo to the director for putting all these elements into play that just soared! The whole production was a “WOW” and we’ve seen a lot in our years in Jacksonville. Maybe the play will come to Northern Florida so I can invite my lady friends as well as the guys to a wonderfully endearing play, “The Men of Mah Jongg!”
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An Excellent Way to Spend 2 Hours
by Sally Otterman
Monday, February 1, 2010
5.0
I attended "The Men of Mah Jongg" its closing week and would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the producers, the playwright, the director, actors and everyone involved. From start to finish, the experience was first rate.

As I was sitting in my seat before the curtain I was enjoying the entertaining music that was being played (old standards, getting me ready for what was to come) and I was also enjoying the wonderful set that was built for the production.

Once the action started I was even more enthralled with this lovely tale of four older men struggling with life decisions and how everyone was going to work out in the end. The Mah Jongg idea was fabulous as it was something different that was introduced to these men that makes them realize they have more sensitive feelings than they let on to. The rapport they have is wonderful. You seem like you know them and their past immediately which is great as you don't have to sit through so much exposition.

The emotional intensity of the play is great at times, but then again so is the laughter and it was that mix of drama and comedy that I really hooked into. The actors were wonderful, all having their moments to shine and the story has such a rewarding ending, that the pay off does just that. Pays off.

I have many friends who are going through loss or have been trying to accept grief graciously and "The Men of Mah Jongg" shows how you can come through the travails of life with somewhat of a smile on your face at the end of the day.

A great play with a great story and, for once, a happy ending! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Bam Crack and Away We Go
by Steven Moore
Thursday, January 28, 2010
5.0
Bam Crack and Away We Go.

I attended "The Men of Mah Jongg" on their closing afternoon. It was great to see so many people coming out to the theatre as the Georgia Ensemble Theatre had to use their balcony for overflow. Who says live theatre is dead?! At least not here in Atlanta!

I went to the play not knowing what to expect as this is an original script I had never heard of. Boy was I in for a treat. I grew up in Philly and Sid's upper west side apartment reminded me a lot of an apartment I used to live in right in the heart of Philly.

There's something about the theatre that's presentational at it's heart. But, when you feel like your spying on someone, or some people, in this case, the four men of "The Men of Mah Jongg," you realize how difficult realism is to portray both directorially and from the writing of the characters. Mr. Atkins dialogue flows off the tongue seemlessly, crackling just at the right moment. All four men's characters in the play are completely defined, to a tee! There's no wondering throughout the whole play about a character's feelings or emotions, though there are great surprises in store for the audience in regards to feelings and emotions.

At times the emotional heights of the play are so high, you literally have to hold your breath until a calmer moment can present itself, yet, you like the ride that the writer is taking you on. It's a thrill ride alright. Anyone who has gone through loss can identify with the constant angst and heartache of grief, yet revel in the play's comic moments and the playwright's way of finding humor from the tragic moments in the play.

The Mah Jongg game was a great way to represent Sid's yearning to bring his deceased wife Mildred back and showed a juxtaposition with Marv who in the end needs Sid just as much as Sid needs him. Harry is hysterical as the new actor with nothing to lose playing a man with Alzheimers and Jerry's songs and character were a welcome mix to the festivities.

I've not heard of Richard Atkins before, but I do hope he brings another one of his fabulous comedies to Atlanta soon. In our present economic situation, we could all use a couple of laughs. Something "The Men of Mah Jongg" has plenty of! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
BRAVO TO THE FOUR OLD GUYS PLAYING MAH JONGG!!!
by Andrea Vitale
Thursday, January 28, 2010
5.0
Some people might get the wrong impression about the rating system here at Theater Review. A 5 is considered the best. So, when I give "The Men of Mah Jongg" a 5, it's not 5 out of 10, it's 10 for 10, so to speak. I saw Mr. Atkins' play last week and I just can't stop thinking about it. It raised such awareness to me on so many levels. Especially in regards to men's feelings and sensitivity. Let's face it. Men don't like to show their sensitive sides, but the game of Mah Jongg seems to bring out the sincerity in these guys. The play made me laugh and made me cry. Something you can't always say when going to the live theatre. So many plays I've seen are so heavy with no humor, it just makes you not want to attend live theatre anymore. But "The Men of Mah Jongg" had such great comic moments and one-liners, that you accept the heavy aftermath, knowing full well that Mr. Atkins is going to come back with another zinger to carry you through. The dialogue was spectacular, never feeling forced and also genuine. The relationships between the men were very rich and well defined and the way Mah Jongg comes into their lives is very ingenious. I am Italian, but I play Mah Jongg with two other Jewish women and an Atheist pretty much. We all get along and dish the dirt just like Sid, Harry, Marv and I think his name is Jerry. What I'm trying to say is that the play doesn't necessarily cater to a Jewish audience, it is universal in it's appeal. And, it doesn't cater to a crowd over 50 and my kids and grandkids would appreciate the play as well. There's a reason people jumped to their feet at the end of the play. I remember "Terms of Endearment" was pretty much a comedy the first hour and then high tragedy the second. The difference between "Endearment" and "Mah Jongg" is that "Mah Jongg" mixes the poignant with the comic throughout the play which puts you at the edge of your seat and you don't realize the first act is over until the house lights come up. Also, as far as comedies go, we are all familiar with Neil Simon, the king of comedy. However, Simon's work can be formula driven and doesn't have the uniqueness that Mr. Atkins' script presents to us. I wish it was still playing as I would like to bring more of my friends to see it again and relish in watching them enjoy the play as much as I did. The actors were great, the set was authentic and the direction was fast paced and energetic. Bravo, "Men of Mah Jongg." [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
The Best is Yet to Come
by Dedalus
Thursday, January 28, 2010
3.5
As Frank Sinatra serenades us out of “The Men of Mah Jongg” (by Richard Atkins, produced by Georgia Ensemble theatre) with “The Best is yet to Come,” I couldn’t help think the song appropriate in more ways than the creators intended. Ostensibly suggesting that the characters will be facing the future with a sunny optimism, the song also was indicative of this particular playwright’s successes and mis-steps here.

Sidney is in a state of depression and grief, never leaving his New York apartment long after his wife’s unwelcome death. His friends Marvin, Harry, and Jerry support him with groceries, camaraderie, and poker. At the same time Marvin’s wife enters her own carousel of illness and depression, Sidney receives a free DVD about the joys of Mah Jongg. Convincing his friends to switch from poker is a daunting task, but soon enough, the friends are tiling, kvetching, and “sharing.”

Comedies about grief can be a tricky business, and I don’t think this production overcomes all of them. To begin with, far too much of the comedy is caricature/schtick based, rather than character-specific and dialogue-based. In one moment, we see generic been-there seen-that “old fart” gags (too many of them not especially funny); in the next, we’re sinking into moments of affecting grief. In this play, the combination is an uneasy mix – the broadness of comedy mitigates the moments that are supposed to move, and the honest moments underscore the shallowness of the humor.

It doesn’t help that Steve Coulter gives Sidney far too many of the mannerisms we saw in last year’s “Southern Comforts,” a much more honest and enjoyable play. It also doesn’t help that Peter Thomasson’s Marvin is a bit too grumpy a grumpy old man – every line is delivered at full volume and he too often acts like a Drill Sergeant with Sidney as his passive recruit. Yes, we eventually see why he’s so peeved, but, since Sidney reacts as if this is how Marvin ALWAYS behaves, the sad source of his anger pulls its emotional punch. It doesn’t help that too much of the play comes across like a young person’s patronizing view of old age. And, it doesn’t help that the offstage characters, particularly Sidney’s daughter and Marvin’s wife, seem to be going through situations much more interesting than what we’re actually seeing on stage.

Still and all, Mr. Atkins does write dialogue that zips and zaps, that amuses and surprises even as the characters act like constructs of a four-old-men joke. It’s character-specific dialog and it’s the source of most of the real pleasures to be had from this production.

And there are real pleasures. The friendships on exhibit are real and affecting with their ups and downs, their misunderstandings and exasperations, their digressions into petty pique and self-surprising honesty. And most of the moments of grief do strike a chord without that feeling of playwright-contrivance that too often overcomes works by young artists.

And, the production itself is top-notch. The set is Sidney’s old and crumbling apartment, which looks simultaneously comfortably lived-in and prison-like. The direction is casually paced – we’re given plenty of time to get to know these men – without being dull (although I could have done without the second-act angry “rugby scrim” of the four men, which came across more as failed slapstick than as an honest scuffle). And the performances are mostly affecting and true. Yes, Mr. Coulter reminded me too often of his “Southern Comforts” character, but still, it was an honest characterization that successfully walked the tightrope between grief and eccentricity. In the secondary roles of Harry and Jerry, Jon Kohler and Kevin Dougherty create equally eccentric friends, quick to go along with Sidney’s plans, and individualistic to an amusing extreme. It’s only Peter Thomasson’s Marvin who grows too tiresome too quickly, but still, he manages to nail enough of his gags that it’s not a cripplingly “off” performance.

Which brings us to that Frank Sinatra scored finale. The more I think about it, the more it seems to make a mockery of Sidney’s grief. If the “best is yet to come,” what does that say about his marriage, the loss he is mourning? One of the coldest aspects of grief is the realization that the “best” is behind, that the loss creates a gap that cannot be easily filled. Yes, Sidney’s friends are getting him “through” this period, but that hole in his life will never be fully refilled. We do need to see that he will work through his grief, that his life will continue, that now he will have to build new bridges to connect with his struggling daughter. But to imply that his best years are ahead of him is, to my mind, cruel and not a little dishonest.

On the other hand, with this play, Mr. Atkins shows himself to be skilled at creating characters through dialog, skilled at constructing scenes that are alternately amusing and moving. I fully believe his best work is yet to come, and I look forward to seeing it. Perhaps one day, when he is old himself and has suffered some of the losses and aggravations that come with age, he may even revisit this play and give it a less patronizing, more honest re-write. Now, that would be a play to savor!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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LOVE THE TITLE - Love the Play Even More
by Esther Arnold
Friday, January 22, 2010
5.0
Finally, a play showing the sensitive side of men. And older men yet. I've seen so many plays where the older characters are set in their ways and are stereotyped as stubborn, crotchety and belligerent, and these four guys might be a little of all of those, but they take such a journey from beginning to end, it's a real thrill ride of emotions, but richly complete and fulfilling. Go see the play before it closes, though I'm sure you'll be able to see it in other cities around the country. A play with legs should travel. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Inspiring play, not your usual drama/comedy
by David Astor
Saturday, January 16, 2010
5.0
I'm a pretty jaded theatre-goer in the fact that I've seen a lot of great theatre and seen a lot of junk. So, when I choose to attend the theatre, I usually have a quandry as to what I should see, what preconceived notions I have about the type of piece I go see, etc. Consequently, it's a miracle that I even get out to the theatre because of my many biases, quirks and eccentricities. It was the title "The Men of Mah Jongg" that intrigued me and so, I went, feeling like I didn't necessarily want to sit in the theatre and watch men sitting around a Mah Jongg table playing some weird Chinese game. But something told me to go and check it out. Needless to say, I was actually riveted to the stage. Something I haven't been for quite some time. I felt myself forgetting I was in the theatre and eavesdropping on four elderly Jewish men who have a hell of a lot of problems, but I felt myself caring for them, laughing at them, pitying them, etc. I won't go on about the play, but I will say that it is groundbreaking theatre in the fact that it is a drama with great laughs and a comedy that hits you right in the heart. After seeing "Avatar" the other night, I wanted something simple and easy to understand. What I got was not simple, yet enjoyably complex, deep, stimulating and with a grand sense of humor. Hey, maybe there's hope for me yet! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
The Men of Mah Jongg - A Powerful Play!
by cynthiarosenfeld
Friday, January 15, 2010
5.0
My husband died two years ago and I'm kind of in the same situation as the main character Sid is in, but in reverse. When you lose a spouse, your life changes instantly and forever. What struck me about "The Men of Mah Jongg" is its uncanny way of making a serious situation extremely funny in the face of great adversity. Face it, no one wants to pay good money to see a play that will depress them, and though the subject matter is serious, the play is extremely funny on so many levels. In addition to the play's sense of humor and comic antics of these four men, it does pack a powerful punch in your gut. But, again, the playwright takes you so quickly from pathos to punchline, it's hard to wallow in pity for too long and yet, you now, as an audience member await the laugh line so you can once again relax. The actors, (I don't remember names) are especially first rate and the production value (the set design, lights, sound) was exceptional as well. All of this goes without saying kudos to the director (the name escapes me again) for putting this show together. And, I love the game of Mah Jongg, so I'm a happy camper all the way around. Standing O to "The Men of Mah Jongg!" [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
The Tiles That Bind. What a fantastic ride!
by BobWalker
Friday, January 8, 2010
5.0
You wouldn't think that four older Jewish guys sitting around talking about mourning, medications, maladies and Mah Jongg would be so compelling. Well, think again! The play carries considerable clout and packs a real wallop in your gut as well as your funny-bone. The main character of Sid, a sixty something widower who lives alone in his Upper West Side apartment in New York City is both incorrigible and a loving father. Faced with mounting physical and emotional problems and his daughter‘s deteriorating relationship with her dead-beat husband who is involved in some kind of white collar crime, Sid has the weight of the world on his shoulders. And the actor playing Sid is wonderful! Sid's best friend Marv, equally competent as an actor, visits him regularly for companionship, delivers his medications and is Sid's main caregiver, but when Marv's wife's health issues accelerate, Marv is faced with yet another challenge. To top if off, Sid gets a DVD in the mail addressed to his deceased wife on "How to Be a Champion At Mah Jongg" as his wife was an avid Mah Jongg player and tries to get the other guys to play Mah Jongg as a tribute to his dearly departed. It is then that the fireworks begin. Both playwright and director seem to have woven a tight script illustrating that great comedy can be born out of great pathos. You'll laugh and cry and experience just about every emotion you may have in you, but in the end, you'll come away with quite a lot. I hear the playwright is adapting the play for the screen and has Alan Arkin pegged to star. I'll be first in line for that one! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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