Review: The Numbers Game, Episodes 5 & 6 (The Pulp Collective)

The Numbers GameThe Numbers Game, the six episode mini-series, concludes in Toronto

After six ‘bite-sized’ plays performed over the past month, The Numbers Game–a theatrical miniseries following the conflict between two gangster operations in the post-Prohibition New York area–is finally drawing to a close. Will the battle between Dutch Schultz (Jamie Cavanagh) and Queenie St. Clair (Karine Ricard) end with peace, or will it all go down in a hail of bullets?

As the crowd gathered to watch this final set of episodes, I was reminded of why this experience is so special: strangers leaned over chairs to discuss the previous episodes with the people sitting in front of them, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and fun. It’s common to get into chats with fellow audience members during the hour-long intermissions too, and it’s by far one of the most social theatrical outings I’ve ever had.

That energy was maintained throughout the highly-anticipated final set of episodes, coming off the real series high that was episodes 3 and 4, which were so good at ramping up the tension to a fever pitch. Those two episodes were all about building up to the final confrontation between Queenie and Dutch, and I was worried that the final set wouldn’t be able to live up to that hype.

In the end, it’s a lot easier to raise the stakes than it is to settle them–but The Numbers Game nevertheless does what it needs to do in this final pair of episodes.

Simply put, this is a fine conclusion, thematically interesting and powerfully acted. Queenie is pushed to unspeakable acts of violence in an effort to reclaim Harlem, undermining the very essence of her mission to begin with.

Meanwhile, the cost of his empire is finally starting to resonate with Dutch, whose organization is beginning to crumble around him. These two powerhouse characters are finally bowing under the weight of their own empires. In this final set, they are truly fallible.

Arguably, the character who shines the most in these episodes is Bumpy Johnson, played with grim determination by Ngabo Nabea. As Queenie’s most loyal gun, he’s given rich conflict and a lot of fine character development in this final act as he decides to push back against his boss for her own good. If nothing else, the finale pays off for this character in a big way, which is gratifying to see after six episodes of development–it’s a unique tribute to what theatre in this format can do.

While it’s a quality set of episodes, consistent with the strong writing and gritty thematic cohesion of episodes past, it never really feels distinctly like a finale. It doesn’t amp up as much as keep level. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that Dutch and Queenie–two rich, engrossing characters whose conflict has always been the heart of the story–never really have the big, climactic showdown I was anticipating, taking a backseat to machinations largely beyond their control.

In the end, perhaps this is the point: The theatre of power continues on regardless of the individual players, forever indifferent to their suffering and sacrifices. When two powerhouses fall, another will step in to fill that role. Still, the payoff for the big Dutch/Queenie showdown feels a little like a gun firing with a silencer: effective in every way, but lacking the full excitement of that final ringing shot. 

That being said, a gunshot tends to get the job done, and The Numbers Game really is a triumphant achievement in storytelling. After six tightly-written and powerfully acted episodes, I’m still eager for more (which, alas, I’ll never get). While the final set didn’t hit that same level of excitement as episodes 3 and 4, they were still thoroughly engaging hours of theatre that I enjoyed immensely–and so did the audience, if the vocal shouts, laughter and applause says anything about how invested tonight’s audience was.

What a fabulous experience, and what a great time I’ve had following this story for a month. I can only hope we see more experiments like this in the future, and that we see them with such a consistent level of quality. Bravo to all involved!

Details:

  • The Numbers Game runs at the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor St.) until November 6th.
  • Tickets are $20 per One Episode; $35 per Two Episodes; $65 for 6-Episode Pass. Tickets can be purchased online.
  • Note the episodic nature! Though each episode is purportedly self-contained, the most rewarding experience is undoubtedly to watch from the beginning.
  • Six episodes play out from Thur-Sun at 7:00pm & 8:30pm respectively. The previous week’s episode ‘airs’ first, followed by the new:
    • September 29 to October 2: Episode 1
      October 6 to October 9: Episode 1 & 2
      October 13 to October 16: Episode 2 & 3
      October 20 to October 23: Episode 3 & 4
      October 27 to October 30: Episode 4 & 5
      November 3 to November 6: Episode 5 & 6

Photo by John Gundy. From left to right: Ucal Shillingford, Andrew Beau Dixon (behind gun), Karine Ricard, Ngabo Nabea, Jeff Hanson, Jamie Cavanagh, James Jonathon McDougalll, Brandon Coffey.