Review "ACES": Deals Powerful Cards, Game Doesn't Always Follow Suit!

1802 W. Berenice
Written by Jon Steinhagen
Directed by Ronan Marra
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru June 18th
Running Time:  One hour and fifty minutes includes an intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
At this casino, dealer’s choice is a scam.  Coworkers shuffle together to hustle tourists.   When one of the players fold permanently, continuing the game is dependent on a wild card. Stakes are high!  Signal Ensemble Theatre presents the world premiere of ACES. It’s Vegas, baby!  Set in the 1970’s, it’s a flashback to the golden age on the strip.  Sinatra is king.  The mob enforces order.  Lack of surveillance technology enables profitable sleight of hand tricks. The con is on until the six man scheme loses an operator.  Their house of cards is about to tumble unless the new guy is cool.  When the replacement turns out to be a chick, the fellas try to determine if she’ll call their bluff.  ACES deals some powerful cards but the game doesn’t always follow suit.

Playwright Jon Steinhagen builds a Vegas flashback.  The witty dialogue is delivered by distinct characters.  The set-up seems formulaic with stereotyped individuals:  tightwad pit boss, guitar playing hippie, multi-divorcee waitress, mob-chased gambler, alcoholic former-great-gambler, and the dim-witted sidekick.  The caricatures are entertainingly delivered by a talented cast.  Vincent Lonergan (pit boss) hilariously bumbles his authority.  Aaron Snook (hippie) silently amuses with limited words. Elizabeth Bagby (waitress) endears as the crusty-but-soft-hearted stooge.  Joseph Stearns (mob-chased) plays womanizing cad deliciously smarmy.  Steinhagen (alcoholic) bullies with terrific fast talking jocularity.  Philip Winston (dim-witted) charms with simplistic delight.  Individually, they are all aces.  Collectively, the six of a kind isn’t quite a winning hand.  The alliances are an odd coupling of numbers and suits. The plot adds in the mysterious new dealer played by Simone Roos.  Roos is lovely but it’s not clear who she is and why is she there.  Not only do the guys want to know her game, the audience does too.              


For this production, Signals places the audience in a semi-circle.  The stage is ground level.  Under the direction of Ronan Marra, the card dealing action is also staged in a semi-circle.  I’m sitting stage right on the aisle. Winston is placed directly in front of me.  He’s pretty to look at but I can’t see anything behind him.  The designated stage is wide and leads to a sluggish pacing as actors continually cross.  The expansive area keeps the audience from really connecting to the characters.  Tightening up the staging and script could send ACES on a lucky streak.     
This deck IS stacked with talent.  The dialogue IS witty.  It’s like ACES is holding at 16 in Blackjack.  Adding the right card might mean jackpot.  Take a gamble, HIT ME!  

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