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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 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.

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