House of Games, by Richard Bean, adapted from David Mamet & Jonathan Katz | Directed by Louise Fischer

New Theatre (http://newtheatre.org.au) | New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 10 September

New Theatre’s latest production is an adaptation by Richard Bean of David Mamet’s and Jonathan Katz’s 1987 movie House of Games.

The rather implausible plot centres on Dr Margaret Ford (Katherine Shearer), a psychoanalyst who has achieved fame and fortune with her recently published book on compulsive behaviour disorder.  Despite her successful career she apparently remains unfulfilled — although why is never explored.

During a therapy session with gambling-addicted Billy Hahn (Charles Jones), her patient discloses that his life is in danger because he owes money to a club owner, Mike (Ben Brock). Raising the stakes, Billy produces a gun (this is America after all) and threatens to kill himself. Fortunately, the good doctor succeeds in disarming Billy and agrees to help him by facilitating a meeting with Mike.

 So, we move out of the clinic into the seedy masculine underworld of crime and gambling — cue cheesy romance between Mike and Margaret.

Mike offers to clear Billy’s debt if Margaret accompanies him to a back-room poker game where she is set the task of identifying a giveaway gesture of a targeted client.

Shearer plays the ‘shrink’ with economic briskness and authenticity, but she becomes far less convincing when playing a woman unsure of whether she is being tricked or wooed by seedy Mike.

Ben Brock alternates between charismatic and alarming in his effort to recreate the underworld boss, whilst the supporting cast members ably assist the action and recreate the times with solid performances.

John Cervenka’s evocative staging capitalises on the contrasting moods that punctuate the proceedings as well as facilitating smooth, fast and effective transitions.

Louise Fischer’s efficient direction attempts to wrestle with the rather disjointed story- telling, as we race through the list of events. No pausing here to investigate the pathology and psychology of gambling — now that would have ‘raised’ my interest!

Bean’s stage adaptation was a huge success in the UK, its humour aimed squarely at a modern English audience. So small wonder that an Australian production of an American film script with an English theatre script — despite the dedication of cast and crew — still seems dated. More The Sting than Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.