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New Play 'The Gambler's Daughter' Rolls Snake Eyes

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It's surprising, if you think of it, that no playwright has ever conjured great dramatic material out of the illusory culture of Las Vegas and its distortion of the good ol' American Dream ideal. Paul North's new play "The Gambler's Daughter," now running at the Eclectic Company Theatre in Valley Village, does center its tale of family redemption around a career card shark living in the far suburban outskirts of Sin City, but the result is more like a soap opera than a "Diceman Cometh."

The prodigal daughter of the title is Mary, who drops in on her childhood home unannounced after a seven-year absence and finds her father Jack unhappily remarried to a desperate, tuned-out Vegas high-life wannabe and raising their indolent teenage son along with Jack's own father, the feisty wheelchair-bound family patriarch. Inheriting her dad's knack for numbers strategy, Mary has established a lucrative career as an ace actuary, though the ne'er-do-well fiancé she's dragged along is a budding Gamblers Anonymous candidate.

Jack wishes Mary hadn't come back to see how degraded his life has become ("Marriage is the worst bet you can take"), but she adamantly asserts her love for him ("I'm not a number—I'm your daughter!") and undertakes to reopen communications among the sparring members of his household "even if I have to use a crowbar." Before long, of course, Jack's suppressed feelings for his long-lost child overcome all the resistance stemming from his persistent self-loathing ("It doesn't matter who made you, Mary—it's the fact that you were made.")

The Eclectic's productions often feature strong casts drawn from a frequently reappearing stable of go-to actors, but John Dickey, as Mary's sharp-tongued grandfather, is the only company regular here and he does stand out, along with Tyler Derench as neglected adolescent video gamer Willy.

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"The Gambler's Daughter," directed by Brian E. Smith, plays Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sunday nights at 7 through February 10. Tickets $20, $12.50 or $11 online; $18 (students $15) at the door; "pay what you can" tomorrow and February 3.