Patrick Marber Essay - Critical Essays


Patrick Marber’s three plays are unique in style; he writes using few sustained monologues or lengthy speeches. The playwright does not like set dramatic speeches and prefers improvisation, wit, and zippy exchanges. In his plays, Marber portrays back-and-forth interactions and the give-and-take quickness of relationships among close groups of friends, lovers, family members, and business partners. He has a dark, comedic, and pessimistic view of human nature and relationships. The playwright’s background as a stand-up comic and television writer and actor gives a freshness and clarity to his plays. His plays, at times shockingly frank, are not appropriate for younger audiences because of their explicit sexual discussions and use of profanity. However, Marber’s plays have touched a nerve in their accurate account of the lives of working-class young urbanites struggling to find meaning in the modern world.

Dealer’s Choice

In the preface to the published edition, Marber comments that he wrote the first draft of Dealer’s Choice at night in one week of early January, 1994. At the time he wrote the play, Marber did not answer the telephone, and he left his apartment only to walk the dog or buy cigarettes, rarely speaking to anybody. Then, the playwright spent a year revising, rewriting, and re-creating the play with the assistance of other actors, stage managers, friends, and theater patrons. The play emerged from improvisational work Marber did with a group of actors at the National Theatre in London. The published version that appeared in 1995 was the seventh draft of the original play, and Marber planned to revise the play when it was produced again.

Dealer’s Choice is a somber and bleak comedy about a father and son, compulsive gambling, relations among friends, business deals, deceit, and human trust. Poker is the metaphor for life that runs throughout the play. The six characters Mugsy, Sweeney, Stephen, Frankie, Carl, and Ash appear in a split set in Stephen’s restaurant in London. On the stage, the characters’ interaction is divided between a kitchen and the restaurant itself. Stephen owns the restaurant, Sweeney is the cook, and Mugsy and Frankie are the waiters. Carl is Stephen’s happy-go-lucky son, and they have had a troubled relationship over the years.

The play takes place one Sunday evening and the following Monday morning. The joking and jesting friends discuss the art of card playing with the necessary wisecracking, bluffing, gamesmanship, and boasting that goes along with working-class men enjoying their pastimes. In many ways, the play is about male power relationships and how men attempt to recruit and deceive others, even their friends and family, to realize their dreams and win the game. These men have difficulty expressing emotions openly, so they hide behind the bravado and tense emotions of the poker game.

The friends have gathered every Sunday night for years for a ritual game in the basement beneath Stephen’s restaurant. There is a special intensity and uneasiness to the card game on this particular night. The professional gambler Ash shows up to collect Carl’s unpaid gambling debt of four thousand pounds that Ash lent to Carl for poker, roulette, and blackjack. Carl had asked his father Stephen for money so that he could start his own restaurant business, but Carl is too much of a compulsive gambler and a malcontent to actually run a restaurant. Stephen is unaware that Carl has incurred large debts, and he tries to talk Carl into continuing to work for him. The climax of the play takes place during the emotional power struggle between Stephen and his directionless son. Stephen tells Mugsy, “I have to tell you that I think my son is the last person in the world anybody should go into business with.” Stephen has tried to counsel his son and make him part of the family business while Carl has tried to lead the life of a professional gambler. When Ash confronts Carl, he says he cannot pay the debt. Stephen loses his temper over...

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