There's a new game in town. Four players. Teams change constantly. Hard to tell who's winning. One thing's for sure, the audience comes out on the short end.
Mark Medoff's latest plunge into the sea of verbosity, The Wager, is now at New York's Eastside Playhouse. The Wager is one giant word game. At its best, it is both funny and confusing; at its worst, it is banal. Throughout, the humor hovers at collegiate level.
Well, it seems there's this wager. Leeds (Kristoffer Tabori) bets Ward (Kenneth Gilman) that within 48 hours of his seduction of a professor's wife, said professor will make an attempt—perhaps successful—on Ward's life. The seduction, apparently, is a foregone conclusion.
Leeds and Ward are California graduate students, Leeds in philosophy and Ward in physical education. They make unlikely roomies, which the set makes painfully obvious. Ward's side of the room is crammed with athletic equipment, trophies, even a basketball hoop. Leed's corner overflows with books, papers and several board games—just in case we didn't get the point.
Ward is the consummate jock. No less than ten (count 'em 10) sports are in evidence or discussed on stage. Ward's dialogue is punctuated by jump shots, drop shots and chip shots. Sex is just another sport.
The play revolves around Leeds, a verbal magician with Jabbar-like accuracy. Where Ward is the master of sport, Leeds is the master of making sport. Tabori's Leeds is a tour de force, a delightful performance of great range. Gilman carries the dumb jock too far; at one point, he emerges from bed in sneakers. Not only that, but he fires darts from the illegal distance of four feet, and his golf swing will warm the heart of every duffer.
The funniest bit in The Wager is a one-on-one basketball game, played with an imaginary ball. Ward puts Ron (the professor) to shame, aided and abetted by Leeds who, as the referee, calls traveling, charging and finally a technical against the bewildered Ron. Ron—the kind of guy who hunts ducks with a submachine gun—fails to see the humor and quits in disgust.
Like Ron, one can easily tire of the verbal gymnastics, no matter how agile the competitors, and before long the humor becomes stale. "When this quarter's over," says Ron near the end, "I'm going to Israel." He should've left at halftime. Shalom!