Capsule Reviews

Dealer's Choice Theatre Quorum ups the ante as high-stakes players with their aces production of Patrick Marber's two-acter about poker. Stephen (Mark Oristano) owns the Italian restaurant where every Sunday night his male employees gather for an intense night of cards. The aloof chef Sweeney (Ben E. Bryant) trades barbs with bulky kitchen worker Frankie (Alex Hargis). Head waiter/bartender Mugsy (Jeff Swearingen) is the youngest, worst player, a perpetual loser but unflappable dreamer. He hopes to score enough winnings in one night to open his own cafe (in a public toilet, no less). When Stephen's troubled son Carl (Bill Sebastian) turns up with the mysterious Ash (Carl Savering), the weekly game takes on a new player and new edge. Who'll win the big pot? Or is the outcome fixed? The cards and quips fly in this tightly written play, which hints at violence that never occurs. All the fighting is verbal, but Marber, who wrote the less interesting Closer long after this one, successfully gambles on the ability of good actors to make the rocketing jabs and sudden uppercuts of his words land with real power. The actors here manage to give each character a unique vocal rhythm and distinctive swagger. Savering, Oristano and Swearingen (directed by Matth Lyle) are particularly effective as very different men who share the same dirty secret. It's a cast royally flush with talent. Through April 16 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive at Northcliff, 214-363-5593. (Elaine Liner)

Merrily We Roll Along Hop in Stephen Sondheim's musical way-back machine in his ditzy little show that starts at the end of the story and works its way to a moment years before. The showbiz-oriented plot line follows composer Frank (the tall, handsome David Brown) and lyricist Charley (twinkly Gary Floyd) from the dissolution of their successful partnership as Broadway hitmakers backward to their youthful decision to team up for their very first revue. In between are marriages, kids, divorces, affairs, hits and flops, and plenty of arguments. Good songs, too, thanks to Sondheim. Good jokes, thanks to book writer George Furth. This is the show with just two memorable numbers, "Not a Day Goes By" and "Old Friends," but the rest are pleasant enough. The production is the last in Theatre Three's current "Appetizer Series," which offers a light nosh (think covered dish, church basement food) before curtain time. They take a no-frills approach to this show, performing it with scripts in hand, street clothes, no set and one piano (ably played by the dependable Terry Dobson). The large cast stumbles over each other in the tiny downstairs performance space, but the strong singing makes up for that. Best are Brown and Floyd (a local cabaret star whose smashing CD Unbound shows off his own songwriting skills). Some nice moments, but seriously overpriced at $30 a ticket. Through April 13 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St., Suite 168, 214-871-3300. (E.L.)

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