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Theatre Review by James Wilson - August 17, 2022

Jonathan Burkey and Justiin Davis
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Appearing before a class of budding high-school Solitaire and Go Fish card sharks, world-champion and record-holder Daniel Bryant (Justiin Davis) casually announces, "I've been called the Venus Williams of Solitaire." As portrayed in Johnny G. Lloyd's Patience, now playing as part of Second Stage's Uptown Season at the McGinn/ Cazale Theater, professional Solitaire is a highly competitive, cut-throat, and apparently very lucrative sport. It is no wonder that at age 25, Daniel is ready to call it quits.

At the beginning of the play, the deck seems stacked against Daniel. His art-collecting, obsessive fiancé Jordan (Jonathan Burke) needs him to make quick (but simultaneously well-thought-out) decisions about such things as their new home's paint colors, upcoming wedding plans, and his level of commitment to their relationship. Additionally, Daniel is feeling the pressure from his mother/ manager (Mary E. Hodges) to delay his retirement until he competes in one final match. This will provide a high-profile introduction to Ella Bryant (Zainab Barry), who is of no relation to Daniel but is poised to be the next world champion. Even Daniel's best friend Nikita (Nemuna Ceesay), a teacher, PR coach, and Solitaire match moderator, has anticipated his next move and is now representing Ella, who is determined to not only replace Daniel but to incinerate him.

Patience refers to the original name (and the one still used in England) for Solitaire, and it reflects the play's ruminative quality. The characters grapple with issues such as individualism, loneliness, ambition, community, and making a home. In various ways, including through gamesmanship, work and art, each of the characters tries to make connections that will make all of their hopes and aspirations fall into perfect order.

The performers under Zhailon Levingston's precise and methodical direction find the right balance of humanness and exaggeration, but Lloyd's characters tend to be more philosophical mouthpieces than flesh-and-blood individuals. For instance, there are extended monologues about the nature of Solitaire and its association with isolation, intentional choices, destruction, and new opportunity. Furthermore, the characters expound upon the notion that the card game offers a chance to both retreat into oneself and (implausibly) to make a grand entrance in the celebrity world. (Without irony, Daniel expresses some concern about being "recognized" in public. One doesn't usually equate a Solitaire-champion sighting with an encounter with Michael Jordan.) Indeed, Daniel and Ella are also presented as symbolic siblings and are archetypally correlated with the great Venus Williams and the super-great Serena Williams.

Regrettably, there are very few details about the characters' backstories, and the play only occasionally alludes to real-world issues, such as gender bias and racism. When Patience does move beyond generalities, the message sputters. For example, while talking to the high school students, Daniel stammers, "I'm probably not supposed to get political, or, but, why not, uh ... My parents found it very important to nurture black talent because of, America uh. America kinda' being this." As a result of the emphasis on the tortured metaphysical musings, we do not care deeply about the characters and their interpersonal connections.

This embellishment of concept over dramatic particularity is highlighted by the metaphorical (albeit gorgeous) production design. Lawrence E. Moten III's scenic design is sleek, with curved borders enclosing the space like a card holder. A Solitaire table sits prominently in the center, and the back wall includes seven doors, which correspond with the number of stacks in Klondike Solitaire, the characters' game of choice. Adam Honoré combines hard-edged neon outlines and cosmic-colored lighting that manifests a stage version of the aurora borealis. And Avery Reed's costumes, particularly those worn by Daniel and Ella, are boldly colored as if making them stand out like a deck's audacious face cards. Visually, if not emotionally, the production is dazzling.

Except for a nifty bit of sleight of hand near the end, the play doesn't contain many surprises. Unfortunately, aside from some good performances and lovely design, the rewards of this Patience are few.

Through August 28, 2022
Primary Stages
Second Stage Theater, McGinn/ Cazale Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: