Review: The Numbers Game, Episodes 3 & 4 (The Pulp Collective)

The Numbers GameThe Numbers Game continues with episodes 3 and 4, now on stage in Toronto

A few weeks ago, I binged episodes one and two of The Numbers Game, the multi-part play series currently running at Toronto’s Storefront Theatre. The idea is to replicate the experience of a Netflix-style miniseries, the type you can burn through episode-by-episode. When transferring the idea to the theatre, this takes the form of shorter plays running throughout October and into early November, with opportunities to catch past episodes just before the new one comes out.

Having really enjoyed the first two episodes, I was eager to get back to the world of these plays, where the racially-charged turf wars of two gangster operations in the post-Prohibition New York area had only begun to play out between Dutch Schultz (Jamie Cavanagh) and Queenie St. Clair (Karine Ricard).

Episode 3, “Go to the Mattresses,” addresses a thread left hanging from the previous episode. Mad Dog Coll, Dutch’s former gunman turned rogue after going unappreciated too long, is wreaking havoc across the city, killing and torturing in a bid to draw his old boss out. As Dutch and his men hide out in a brothel before the eventual showdown, Queenie St. Clair languishes in prison. Episode 4, “Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown,” follows Queenie after she finally gets back out to her beloved Harlem–which may or may not be loving her back after she testifies to the feds.

If episodes 1 and 2 were designed to get you intrigued, then episodes 3 and 4 are where The Numbers Game really settles in and starts ramping up. It hits the point in any binge-fest where you’re up until 3am because you can’t stop yourself from watching the next episode.

One of the really rewarding things about watching a series of plays like this is that it achieves a TV-level of attachment. The episodic nature allows its characters to breathe, to follow their own individual subplots and explore relationships that would get sidelined in a more traditional three act structure. In episode 3, for example, we get to see Dutch form a brief relationship with Polly Adler (a biting Jeanie Calleja in a guest star role), a brothel madam with enough grit to match his own. Their scenes are an interesting mix of tension and chemistry, and the brief relationship seems to force both to consider the ramifications of power and powerlessness. It’s a short look into a ‘side’ character’s story that simultaneously explores our lead’s inner psyche — that The Numbers Game often pulls double-duty in this way is one of the reasons why the world feels so gritty, fleshed out and colourful.

The dialogue really sings in these next two episodes, and the language of the world–slang and filth and sleaze, paired with rousing calls to action–is killer. Some of the best work comes when Queenie finally gets back out onto the streets of Harlem, only to find her welcome less than warm. She has two monologues in episode 4 that both received spontaneous applause–a credit to the commanding presence Ricard has on stage. She’s a force to be reckoned with here, regal and uncompromising. Like Dutch, Queenie has a complicated relationship to power, but her strength as a character is that she refuses to give it up, even when the world she inhabits demands that she be powerless. She’s a fascinating lead, and as the “TO BE CONTINUED” flashed over the back of the stage, I turned to my guest and said, “I can’t wait for her to completely destroy him.”

That’s why The Numbers Game is so engrossing: by spending so much time with these characters, it prompts that kind of response. As we filed out of the theatre, we chatted with complete strangers, and the response was universal: “I can’t wait to see what happens next!”

The themes of power and justice continue to play heavily throughout, and but it’s paired with a lot of humour, action, and character-driven drama, carried out by an able cast. I hate that I have to wait two weeks to see how it all concludes. (And is there any chance that this story could make its way to small screens in some capacity? Please! I want to binge the whole thing again whilst lying in bed, wearing pajamas and pawing at a bag of cheetos).

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.

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