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The Men of Mah Jongg, by Richard Atkins
The Men of Mah Jongg (THEATRE REVIEW): An Enjoyable Roller-Coaster Ride
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 Theatreís The Men of Mah Jongg, but thereís also an element of consistency. From start to finish, this is a play that is both touching and thought-provoking. Playwright Richard Atkinsí work defies classification, as itís 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 hasnít left his apartment since; Marvin (Peter Thomasson) is coping with his wifeís illness and Sidís 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 isnít until Sidney, inspired by his late belovedís hobby, replaces their weekly poker game with mah jongg that they really start to come together. The game ďinvented by Chinese men and stolen by Jewish women,Ē as Marv would say, serves as a starting point for bonding and self-discovery.

All of the action occurs in Sidneyís apartment, as, for a long time, he refuses to venture outside. The production isnít 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 playís timeline, perfectly convey the passage of time and chronicle the charactersí steps toward overcoming their fears.

The real highlight, though, is the dialogue. Itís 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 actorsí 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.

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