MOSLEY AND ME by Adam Pettle, directed by Vikki Anderson, with Randy Hughson and Alex Poch-Goldin. Presented by DVxT in association with CanStage at Berkeley Theatre Downstairs (26 Berkeley). Previews begin Saturday (November 22), opens Wednesday (November 26) and runs to December 13, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday 1 pm. $15-$35, Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
Poker may be a game for gamblers, but audiences are sure to share a winning pot with Mosley And Me, the latest work by hot-streak playwright Adam Pettle. Riffing on the betting that helped give a lift to Zadie's Shoes and the close fraternal relationship at the centre of Sunday Father - two previous Pettle hits - Mosley involves Nathan (Alex Poch-Goldin), who helps keep his family bagel shop in Montreal solvent, and Johnny Mosley (Randy Hughson), the newly hired assistant baker.
The two share a love of poker and may be grifting each other at a weekly card game.
But what's exciting DVxT Theatre's Vikki Anderson, who commissioned the piece from Pettle, is that the script has become more than a fun plot.
"What began as an elaborate narrative about a scam has deepened into a rich story about the scam's impact on these two, about trust, loyalty, greed and brotherhood," says Anderson over a post-rehearsal spinach tart.
Anderson's one of those rare theatre artists who both direct and design, the latter often independently. Her most recent work wearing two hats was a splendidly buoyant yet moving version of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, staged in association with Soulpepper. Above the script's required mound of earth, in which the central character was embedded, Anderson designed a cracking arch that suggested a crumbling civilization.
DVxT has produced only a few shows - Coyote Ugly (1998) and The Doll House (2001) - but the company has raked in a number of Dora Awards for its efforts.
"The company's mandate isn't a literary one, about the kind of scripts we deal with, but rather about how we work," Anderson says thoughtfully. "We tackle scripts for six weeks, giving us a long time to think about results."
The idea for a script commission came when Anderson designed Pettle's first hit, Therac 25. She especially admires his dialogue.
"Adam writes the way people talk, making each other laugh without using knock-down jokes. His humour is always natural, a survival tactic that has to do with navigating a character's day rather than becoming frustrated with what happens in it.
"Also, it's filled with subtext. A line has five things underneath it. Sometimes in the theatre I get tired of being talked to by actors. Here I get caught up in the characters' thoughts and dialogue, which lets their relationship come through strongly."
Anderson admits that the design for Mosley And Me was one of her hardest projects. In shows like Alphonse and The Yoko Ono Project, she used monochromatic minimalism to great effect.
"But here, creating the world of a bagel shop, I had to deal with a box set and props, which I hate," she says, laughing. "But though there's flour on the floor and sesame seeds flying, I've taken some artistic licence with the look of the show."
There were two things she couldn't diddle with: the bagels and the cards. Because the actors actually make bagels during the play, she had them train in a real bagel shop until they could make a believable centreless circle of bread.
And the actual poker hands? Hughson and Poch-Goldin can't cheat at those either.
"They had to learn to shuffle a deck without destroying the set-up of the cards," the director notes. "They play a hand during the show, and that three-page scene has been the one we've worked on most meticulously, to be sure they're comfortable with the shuffling and dealing.
"Poker people in the audience will know if the actors are doing something wrong."
Even Anderson's become fascinated with the game, to the point of distraction but not addiction.
"I never played before, but now we deal out the cards every day at lunch."