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Paradise Factory Theatre, New York City

Patience
3.0Reviewer's Rating

When I learned the show’s premise, I was originally skeptical that watching competitive solitaire players square off could be as gripping as a fast-paced sporting event. Solitaire is also known as patience, after all (hence the title), and watching the rest of this show did require some of it in the hour-long buildup to the climactic match. I imagined I’d feel like I was in the audience at a golf tournament – entertained enough but held at arm’s length by the quiet, individual nature of the game. And then the competitors muse aloud while they play, comparing themselves to the Williams sisters of tennis in touching analogies, realizing they’re sitting at a career crossroads and wondering what they want to be.

Thus culminates Johnny G. Lloyd’s Patience, about world-champion solitaire player Daniel (Joshua Gitta) at a point in his life where playing solitaire is about the last thing he wants to do. He’s just moved in with his fiancé Jordan (Christopher Rand) and he wants to deal himself a new hand in life where he, and not his manager (or should I say momager; Brenda Crawley), is king. She has other ideas; namely, that he play a match against precocious up-and-comer Ella (Kristin Dodson). Cold and awkward at first, the competitors eventually find a shaky connection. From there, they have to figure out what they want as individuals and where solitaire fits into that.

Ella’s vision is clear. The matter-of-fact teen is ambitious – she sees herself becoming solitaire’s Serena Williams, losing often at first but eventually winning her way to become the standard against whom all others are held. And she knows how to do it: sparring with the world champion, constant practice, and even ingratiating herself with Daniel’s mom. For all her scheming and standoffishness, Dobson is winning as the character. She gives Ella an inspiring edge that’s not charming, but captivating. She proclaims to the audience at the end that she’s going to become the best and, whether you solely see her or you see in her the optimistic confidence of any dreaming child you know, you believe her. The monologue is a subtle but well-placed reminder of black talent. What’s great about Patience, though, is that although it has an entirely POC cast and two main characters are gay, the show does not revolve around them being black and gay. The normalized representation further drives home the point that you can chase your dreams no matter who you are. It’s a kitschy message in words, but Lloyd and Dibba write and direct it skillfully for the stage.

Daniel’s journey isn’t so straightforward as Ella’s. He wants more than solitaire but knows little else, and needs to re-undergo the self-discovery his mother did for him when she decided he was a prodigy at five. This is achieved through subplot of his relationship with the insecure Jordan, whose incessant questions about Daniel’s feelings for him (made both comic and wrenching by Rand) force him to articulate what he wants: normalcy. So he also does in his final monologue in which he compares himself to Venus Williams (and simultaneously to the planet, in a slightly confusing blended analogy): bright, successful at first, but soon to burn out without having achieved the longevity or peak success of a Serena. Gitta isn’t overly expressive as he conveys all his character’s inner turmoil, but he doesn’t need to: he plays Daniel with a naturalistic, subtle energy that’s thoughtful and touching in its own right. (Brenda Crawley’s Mother and DeAnna Supplee’s Nikita – Daniel’s friend and PR representative – have expressiveness more than covered with their dry, standout sass.)

At the show’s end, somewhere in the middle of Daniel’s analogy, was when I realized it didn’t matter that solitaire is an almost unbelievably big, football-level deal in Patience’s universe. It isn’t crucial to have football’s caliber of action to be intrigued by the competition. We watch sports (and theatre, for that matter) for the thrill of wondering the outcome and to follow the journey of players we feel drawn to. From there comes the arresting intensity, and Patience (and solitaire itself, too) delivers that in spades.

  • Drama
  • By Johnny G. Lloyd
  • Directed by Velani Dibba
  • Cast includes: Brenda Crawley, Kristin Dodson, Joshua Gitta, DeAnna Supplee, Christopher Rand
  • Paradise Factory Theatre, New York City
  • Until 3 August 2019

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