Go Deeper

Where Power Gets Meted Out: The Gambling Room

Posted April 25th, 2013

“It is awesome there are people who do plays about Nixon and Kissinger in a hot tub, but I write the play about guys waiting for Nixon and Kissinger.”

Poster image for The Gambling Room.

Poster image for The Gambling Room.

The Gambling Room opens May 18 at the Papermill Theater in Kensington. The play is the newest work written and directed by John Rosenberg of Hella Fresh Theater, and is set in Vietnam in 1963. We caught up with John to find out about The Gambling Room and its creation.

FringeArts: Why is the show title The Gambling Room?

John Rosenberg: The Gambling Room is the recreation room of the .  It is a real place, my favorite place in the whole world.

FringeArts: What’s the premise of the play?

John Rosenberg: Set in the fall of 1963, the tumultuous days leading to the falls of presidents, the play witnesses the end of a diplomat’s family and the birth of a new era in Vietnam. Two young Americans attempt a coup d’état from a rooftop in Saigon.  John and Jack, rising stars in the US diplomatic corps, carry out their father’s final command: meet the embattled President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, and furnish him with a list of American journalists to be silenced.

FringeArts: How did the idea for this show come about?

John Rosenberg: Me and my ladyfriend went to Vietnam for a month in 2009. We were visiting her sister who lived in Ho Chi Minh City—the former Saigon, capitol of South Vietnam. We visited the Presidential Palace and I saw the gambling room, which is on the second floor of the palace. I was just captured by the space. I visited it a number of times and took photos and wrote a very short play while we were there.  The short play was a part of Cheap Guy HOF which I performed in the 2010 Philly Fringe. However, it was a story and a space I wanted to revisit, and this winter I thought it was time to do a full length version, so here we are.

FringeArts: What interested you about the time period and the history that surrounds this play?

John Rosenberg on a bench. Photo: Said Johnson.

John Rosenberg on a bench. Photo: Said Johnson.

John Rosenberg: I was super pro-war when I was a kid and was pissed at my dad that he didn’t serve in Vietnam. I used to put Marine Corps bumper stickers on his car. Amazing I didn’t accidentally drown when I was a kid. So there was an interest that grew out my childhood, albeit for different reasons.

Visiting the Palace in Vietnam, it is this ode to and bluff of power. It is now an empty building, a trophy for the Vietnamese of their victory over hundreds of years of colonialism. I saw the room as this comfortable place from where violence is meted out. I had never really seen anything about the days before America really thunderfucked Vietnam and thought it might be interesting to capture the palace then. Doing research, October 1963, it is regarded as something straight out of Shakespearean tragedy—factions vying for power, coups, backstabbings, betrayals. I thought it would be an interesting place to set a story.

The final piece was of course the story, which is about two brothers dealing with death and the question of carrying on the family mission at what cost. And so for me, the story of the two brothers and what they attempt embodies everything else going on at this time.

The real gambling room, in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Taylor and Ayumi.

The real gambling room, in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Taylor and Ayumi.

FringeArts: Who’s acting in it, and why did you want to work with them?

John Rosenberg: I write my plays specifically around the actors involved, so it is important to find actors comfortable work shopping a play into existence. For The Gambling Room, I am lucky to be working with Dan Tobin, Sebastian Cummings, and Calvin Atkinson. I met Calvin last year, he read for the last play I did, Alp d’ Huez. He was super talented but young for the part. I kept Calvin in mind and when I started writing the full-length, I told him I wanted him for the lead. He said okie doke I said hooray. He is super busy, so I had to write a part that would allow his schedule. (He is currently in the production of Eastern Standard which is being put up by Quince Productions.)

I met Dan Tobin in December, who responded to a craiglist thing looking for actors. I thought he had a great look and was a nice dude and I could tell he was talented. He is also the tallest actor I have ever worked. So the play in my head was about two brothers and I left them alone and I started writing it.  When I got a semblance of a script in February, I found out they had totally opposite schedules. As in, impossible to make it work schedules.

But I thought they were really good so I decided to rewrite the script and structure the play so I can use both these talented dudes. Such is the blessing and curse of doing shit on your own, you can do whatever you want but you are the only one whose fault it is when it sucks.  It popped into my head how I could work the play, so I got Sebastian Cummings. I have worked with Sebastian a few times, this is the third full-length production he has done with me. In essence, I created his character on the fly. I like to give Sebastian strange challenges in each show, this time he is playing a 43-year-old man.  [Sebastian is in his early 20s.]

FringeArts: What does setting a play within a specific historical time period and historical events do for you as a writer?

John Rosenberg: It is awesome there are people who do plays about Nixon and Kissinger in a hot tub, but I write the play about guys waiting for Nixon and Kissinger.  The more courage you have, you can do whatever you want. And I get my courage from actors. They have given me an opportunity to create something that will be very different, special and compelling. Or maybe they won’t show up opening day and then I will see what we will do.

Thank John, we’re looking forward to the show!

The Gambling Room
Written and directed by John Rosenberg; starring Sebastian Cumming, Dan Tobin, Calvin Atkinson; produced by Hella Fresh Theater.
Papermill Theater, 2825 Ormes Street (Kensington), Philadelphia, 19134
May 18, 19, 25, 26, June 1, June 2nd, June 8th, June 9th. All shows 2pm.
Tickets $10. Ride to and from the show plus ticket $20. BUY TICKETS!