Hella Fresh Theater presents “The Gambling Room (Phong Giai Tri)”
Through Sun., June 9. The Papermill Theater, 2825 Ormes St. hellafreshtheater.com
Overall vibe: A clandestine operation. On the edge of Kensington’s Ormes Street, writer-director John Rosenberg embodies the elegant confidence that is his Hella Fresh Theater; dressed up handsome in a suit and tie, he playfully announces with military briskness, “House is open, assholes.” The audience laughing in the lobby is handed top-secret dossiers on United States/Vietnam relations from 1945-1967 as they enter the 60-seat theater on the ground floor of the Papermill Artist Collective.
Most memorable moment: The Gambling Room may be a play about two brothers in the United States Diplomatic Corps risking their lives attempting a coup d’état on a rooftop in war-torn Vietnam in fall 1963, but today’s matinee performance was about three young actors who did not viscerally understand the material they were executing. Thus, the stakes were highest when Dan J. Tobin, as Jack Francis, balanced a broom on his chin. The simple act forced him to exist in the moment, and it reminded the audience that a live performance is by nature a balancing act.
Scene stealer: Los Angeles native Rosenberg is a playwright with a ferocious amount of talent. (Sorry, L.A., he belongs to Philadelphia now.) That said, sometimes even the most gifted playwrights need to be told, “Hey, your play needs a bit more exposition.” Personally, I wish the extensive top-secret dossier, written by Rosenberg and handed out as a program, could be bumped up to the present tense and somehow incorporated into the script.