A crisp fedora, the sound of cards being shuffled, and a dark alley lit only by the end of a burning cigarette: Noir is one of those genres that’s hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. And in the opening scenes of Not Every Card, it’s pretty clear from the start what we’re in for.
We start when Vincent (Jacob Clark), a cheat and a hustler, is thrown out of a card game and into the streets. Clearly, he’s been caught in the act, and his hosts are having none of it.
But he hardly has time to adjust his hat and shake the wrinkles from his suit when an equally mysterious and shady character, Felix (Jonathan Miot), approaches him with an intriguing offer: Join forces with local crime boss Sebastian (Laine Pahos) to hustle a dangerous military leader.
The stakes? A lot of cash, and a woman named Elizabeth.
Wait, what? Uh-oh.
Money is one thing, but even Vincent’s gambling addiction is trumped by a chivalrous instinct to aid the woman in need. And if that all sounds just a little bit smarmy, well, it really is.
Thankfully, the woman in question is Elizabeth (Emily Gilson), and she’s playing a high-stakes game of her own. We quickly discover that she is the leader of a resistance movement whose target is the very same military leader sitting down to try his luck against Vincent.
Great, so now it’s all becoming clear. In fact, it’s a little too clear. Not Every Card lacked the element that great heist/noir is all about: Mystery. The ending sticks out from the beginning like four hearts on the board against your outside straight-draw. And if that Texas Hold ’em reference is lost on you, don’t worry – a love of poker doesn’t do anything to enhance the show.
But first – the good. Not Every Card is well produced, with smart costuming and prop choices that let you know exactly what it is you’re looking at. Quite the achievement for a Fringe Festival production, so job well done there.
Conceived by Emanuel Wazar
at Mountain – Mount Vernon United Methodist Church
900 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
The characters themselves, however, are pretty hard to swallow. There’s an element of machismo that runs from beginning to end, infecting Vincent and Sebastian in particular. What’s intended as swagger is really just annoying, because neither character is particularly good at what it is they’re trying to do.
Elizabeth is muddled in her own way, too, as the quasi-heroine who ping-pongs between rebel leader and damsel-in-distress. Sometimes she’s clearly in on the hustle, doing what it takes to sell her role. But sometimes, she’s drowning herself in booze over her dislike for the situation she’s created. If the intent was to throw us off the scent, it worked, but likely not as intended.
The result is needlessly confusing, without any of the drama or suspense that might make director Emanuel Wazar’s vision a success.
Like Vincent tells us in the play, “Not every card is a winner.” True fact.
The idea is there, and the plot and characters could be interesting with some other spice added to this sauce. It just isn’t there yet.