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‘The Men of Mah Jongg’ World Premiere at QTP

Curtain up. Lights. A disheveled male wearing thick sunglasses is sprawled across a large chair. The room is in disarray as he appears to be in a deep sleep, or passed out. A college dorm room? Nope. It’s sixty-something Sidney who has given up on life since the passing of his beloved wife.
The premise may be bleak but the story is very, very funny. Directed by Tony Award winning Mark Medoff (“Children of a Lesser God”) it’s a warmhearted window that opens onto four poker-playing friends, who happen to be elderly. Playwright Richard Atkins turns poker night on its ear. Widower Sidney plots to recapture his lost wife Mildred’s memory. He cajoles his buddies into giving up poker in exchange for Mah Jongg, her favorite game.
As the story unfolds, it becomes a character study of four friends. Whining Sidney Weinberg (John FitzGibbon) complains and criticizes everyone in earshot. His harsh, self-absorbed harangues belie a vulnerable, devoted husband, father and friend. FitzGibbon, whose acting credentials include numerous TV soap operas, skillfully weaves his one-liners with unexpectedly poignant moments.
Poor Marvin (Michael Collins) dutifully swallows his close friend’s verbal abuse while sidestepping his own difficult issues. At first more level-headed than Sid, he becomes more impulsive as his own personal crises mount. Collins deftly flips from irreverent comedy (verbally intimidating an obnoxious tenant) to grim reality (reacting to his own wife’s sudden health issues).
Blissfully clueless Jerry (Joseph Jamrog) is obsessed with crafting a jingle for every life experience. That includes ringing a doorbell to far more intense situations. He dresses more stylishly and has quite an eye for the opposite sex. His role should be extremely annoying but comes across as wonderfully disarming. Mr. Jamrog is also a veteran actor with extensive stage, screen and TV credits including “Law and Order.”
The final friend in the foursome is Harry (Evan Thompson). He is the most mischievous, always surprising his friends with the unexpected. He feigns dementia, brags about his sudden “discovery” by an off-off Broadway producer and fakes a heart attack to exact revenge on the others. He’s truly a character. Thompson also boasts extensive stage, screen and TV credits.
Although titled “The Men of Mah Jongg,” the production is far less about four grey haired guys playing Mah Jongg than about four close friends who, when faced with their own mortality, steadfastly refuse to succumb to life’s unwanted finales. Close curtain. Black out.
Behind the scenes support is equally professional. Kudos to Charles Townsend Wittreich Jr. (scenic designer), Chris Davis (lighting designer), James M. Langan (technical director), Conor McGuigan (sound design), Debra Bergsma Otte (costume design), Stephanie Klapper (casting director), Liz Feller (Music Director, props), Marybeth Langdon (stage manager), Jennifer Pardilla (casting assistant) and Roy Hammond (Mah Jongg consultant).
The play is running through December 14, call 718-760-0064 or surf to www.queenstheatre.org for tix.

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