Las Vegas dancer Fran Walker (Deborah Sclar) meets a lounge piano player named Joe (Don Scribner). Fran's been involved with a rich married businessman (Shawn Michaels) for more than a decade, waiting for him to get a divorce. Joe lost all his money gambling years earlier, and he's been building up his bank account as a musician, waiting for the day he can leave the town. They're two lonely people looking for respite.

Las Vegas dancer Fran Walker (Deborah Sclar) meets a lounge piano player named Joe (Don Scribner). Fran’s been involved with a rich married businessman (Shawn Michaels) for more than a decade, waiting for him to get a divorce. Joe lost all his money gambling years earlier, and he’s been building up his bank account as a musician, waiting for the day he can leave the town. They’re two lonely people looking for respite.

As they wait for their ships to come in, they decide to live together, both agreeing the arrangement is a temporary thing — they don’t want to give up their dreams. As the fates test each of them in their desires, the play becomes a fascinating character study.

The first six scenes of act one feature only the two players, and such intimacy and intensity requires much from the actors, especially a show of vulnerability beneath their hard edges and lack of empathy. Sclar and Scribner admirably display the extremes, but the transitions sometimes seem a jump. A necessary chemistry is absent.

Or so it appeared on opening night, until the actors found a connection with each other, at which point the play soared. Opening night jitters may have been at work and overcome. They also had to surmount the images a few people may have of Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty in the roles from the 1970 film directed by George Stevens.

Shawn Michaels in his single scene is quite believable as the older rich lover who, after making a supreme sacrifice, knows when to cut his losses.

Director Audrey Marlyn Singer gives movement and motivation to her actors, creating in the characters a sense of false hope that the glitz and neon of the city, somewhere beyond Fran’s apartment, help reinforce.

Dave Dunning’s elaborate set design underscores Fran’s situation of a state of permanent temporariness. The light design by John J. Grant and sound design by Jerry Sider add to the whole group’s professionalism.

The Only Game in Town

Production

The Only Game in Town (Actors Forum Theatre; 40 seats; $ 15) Actors Forum Theatre presents a drama in two acts by Frank D. Gilroy, produced and directed by Audrey Marlyn Singer.

Crew

Set design, Dave Dunning; light design, John J. Grant; sound design, Jerry Sider. Opened and reviewed March 29, 1996; runs through May 19. Running time: 2 hours.

With

Cast: Deborah Sclar (Fran Walker), Don Scribner (Joe Grady), Shawn Michaels (Thomas J. Lockwood). The Only Game in Town," by Frank Gilroy (best known for "The Subject Was Roses"), took a critical drubbing when it premiered in 1968 and was called melodramatic. Perhaps the play was ahead of its time. A tale of two losers falling in love in Las Vegas, it seems tame and optimistic, in fact, compared to the recent film "Leaving Las Vegas." While the first act in this production seems disjointed at times, the second act hums.
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