Solitaire isn’t really solitaire. Maybe some of you already knew this and I’m just behind. I had assumed that the solitaire I know – the one available on every computer and phone – was that game’s only form. Turns out solitaire can take many variations, all falling under the genre of “patience game.” The version best known in the US (to the point where we just call it “solitaire”) is really called “klondike solitaire.”
Daniel explains all of this at the top of Johnny G. Lloyd’s new play Patience, part of the Corkscrew Theater Festival. It is klondike solitaire to which Daniel (Joshua Gitta) has devoted his life. Since age 20, he has been the world’s number one ranked solitaire player. Now 25, Daniel is considering retirement – and wondering where his life could go from here. Meanwhile, 18 year-old solitaire prodigy Ella is rising in the ranks, so when Daniel’s mother (and manager) arranges a match between the two, Daniel has to decide if he still cares about the sport that has defined his life.
Whether or not a hyper-competitive, politicized world of solitaire actually exists, Lloyd’s text is regrettably vague about its machinations. How does Daniel make a living? Who exactly are these many fans and press outlets who follow him so closely? Lloyd strains to lend dramatic weight to solitaire, but his characters treat it as life or death. Theoretically, an audience could buy into that, but more specifics would be needed.
In fairness, Lloyd is mostly taking solitaire as representational. In that regard, the play is more successful. The idea that only one champion can exist at a time, in any field, is a real one. It is equally true that the public loves pitting new blood against reigning champs, and seeing the champ fall. That Daniel and Ella are both black is not mentioned, nor is it incidental. Young talent is built up to be torn down – young black talent, even more so.
Lloyd’s best scenes see these two champions finding an unlikely connection. Having spent so many hours training at an isolating sport, the two are socially useless. Ella’s awkwardness is especially endearing. We realize how many wheels are constantly spinning in their heads – every variation of every possible card flip. No wonder the world seems overwhelming.
It’s a smart idea. Unfortunately it often gets lost in Daniel’s conflicts with his fiancé and mother. The theme of overwhelming options is meant to tie in with these conflicts, but often gets lost in melodramatic dialogue. Velani Dibba’s direction does the play no favors, adding a good 20 minutes with painfully slow pacing and endless dramatic pauses.
The play closes on dual monologues from Daniel and Ella, as each decides on their future. In a game of so many possibilities, each manage to make a choice. Thank god – at this point, their endless uncertainty is starting to drive us crazy. But then again, maybe that’s Lloyd’s point.