A Gambler's Guide to Dying Review - You Can't Take It With You

Gambling against big odds, like the character he writes about, Gary McNair took a shot at being a playwright/performer. It seems to have paid off. A GAMBLER’S GUIDE TO DYING, making its Los Angeles premiere at the Ruskin Group Theatre, was first staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival starring the playwright and earned international critical acclaim. A tale of an inveterate gambler as told by his grandson, the play relates the apocryphal story of a Scottish gambler who wins big but can’t stop gambling. Fast forward a few years, and he is faced with a grim medical diagnosis. Like the gambler he is, he bets all of his dough that he’ll live to see the new millennium, which just happens to be long past his terminal prognosis. What better way for a gambler to make his final exit than by making the bet of (and on) his life?

 

Maury Sterling - Photo by Ed Krieger

Maury Sterling does a first-rate job of telling the tale through the eyes and words of the gambler’s grandson. He starts off as a squirmy tyke of seven and reaches adulthood on New Year’s Eve of the new millennium, waiting down the street from the hospital for the word - did grandpa win the bet, or what? With an impeccable ear for the Scottish tongue (sometimes twisters) and on-the-nose timing, Sterling brilliantly captures the essence of the story. A tip for the audience: be sure to look at the playbill before entering the theater. The Glossary is essential to let the average American know what the average Scotsman is talking about when Scottish slang and British allusions appear. Unless, of course, you already know what “Gorbals” and “haar” signify.

 

Maury Sterling - Photo by Ed Krieger

Director Paul Linke ably helms the production, rich with Scotland’s story-tellers and myth-builders. Linke is an expert in drawing out chuckles, even in the most dire of situations; and Sterling has a knack for blending reality and fantasy so that they are indistinguishable. The two make a talented and effective pair. This is a captivating story of an impressionable youngster, the “echo of the future,” and his close relationship with his grandfather. Is it a true story? The playwright makes his audience hope that it is. Sarah Figoten Wilson’s unpretentious set design amply fits the bill, while Mike Reilly’s lighting and Chip Bolcik’s sound design add dimensions to the overall effect.

 

Director Paul Linke and Maury Sterling - Photo by Ed Krieger

THE GAMBLER’S GUIDE TO DYING runs through April 29, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (no performances March 25 – 27). The Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 (students, guild members, and seniors $20). For reservations, call 310-397-3244 or go online at www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.

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